Parenting While Anxious: 5 Ways to Cope with Anxiety as a Parent

Parent with long ponytail and blue dress sits at desk, forehead supported with hand, as child with pigtails approaches with toyParenting is one of the hardest, most stressful, yet rewarding experiences a person can have. We love our little ones with all our hearts, but they often test our limits. Being a parent can bring out the best and worst in each of us. Parenting with anxiety, however, can make the experience more challenging for parents and kids alike.

Let’s set the scene: You are out to dinner and your child starts to throw a massive temper tantrum. You feel the eyes of the other diners and wait staff trained on you, waiting to see what will happen next. At home you could simply ignore the fit, but in public something must be done. The pressure is on to resolve the situation so your child can calm down and the other restaurant patrons can go back to a peaceful dinner. Not an easy feat, right? You feel the tension rise in your mind and body, but you manage to resolve the situation in one way or another.

Next, consider how you might feel in this situation with an anxiety condition. You might have already been in an anxious state just leaving your house and going into a public space. You could be preoccupied with fears of judgment from others, germs, or a catastrophe taking place. You may sweat when you look in your server’s eyes to order because of social anxiety. You may ritualistically count in your head to manage the rising panic. These are all examples of how different anxiety conditions can affect your frame of mind when you leave the house.

Now let’s add that lovely temper tantrum your toddler is throwing. How well will you be able to problem-solve while in a heightened state? Will you be able to deal with your child calmly or will your anxiety morph into extreme irritability that gets taken out on your child? What is the likelihood it might escalate into a panic attack and you won’t be able to handle it at all?

You can see how anxiety can become so distracting that your ability to effectively parent in a high-stress situation is compromised. Yes, being a parent is hard and can make anyone anxious. But when you are living with an anxiety condition, it can be downright overwhelming. Anxiety stems from a deeply held core belief that we are unable to control or resolve a stressor. This belief causes us to question our abilities, doubt a positive outcome, and overestimate a potential danger. It takes away our ability to have faith in the future and trust our judgment. The resulting thinking patterns can significantly affect our parenting.

Anxiety stems from a deeply held core belief that we are unable to control or resolve a stressor. This belief causes us to question our abilities, doubt a positive outcome, and overestimate a potential danger.

If you have a fear of infection from germs, your choices to wash your hands excessively or avoid certain activities may have an impact on your children. If you have social anxiety and avoid leaving the house or meeting new people, your children may follow your example. If you are preoccupied with your children’s behaviors for fear of what they might lead to 10 or 15 years down the line, you may not be able to be present with them to teach them how to behave.

There is so much pressure on parents, especially mothers, to be perfect and to have perfect children. Parents are exposed to more information than ever about how their parenting may affect their children long-term. From screen time to nutrition to discipline, it is easy to find a multitude of articles or studies to suggest you are somehow damaging your children. These sources of information can be helpful, but can also give us a false sense of control over how to avoid anything negative happening to our kids.

So how can people with anxiety conditions parent effectively while maintaining their own mental health? Here are five ways to parent while anxious:

1. SELF-CARE!

Self-care is the first and most important method to improve parenting skills—and it applies to everyone, regardless of whether you have an anxiety condition. Simply put, you can’t give your kids everything when you have nothing to give. Take the time to consider what you need to do for yourself to keep your symptoms under control. There are things everyone needs: exercise, good nutrition, time to recharge. There are also things that are unique to you. Do you love reading? Biking? Kickboxing? Time with friends? Think about what helps you recharge your batteries so the mental and physical energy to care for your kids can be there.

2. Know Your Limits

When you have an anxiety condition, your comfort zone can be smaller and more defined than for most. If you know going out to dinner with the kids is stressful, don’t go unless you can’t avoid it. If you can’t handle watching your kids play in the dirt, have your partner or a family member oversee cleanup. Don’t sign up for every committee at school if your social anxiety makes it feel overwhelming. There are always unavoidable triggers, and it isn’t advisable to avoid everything that tends to make you anxious, as doing so can ultimately increase anxiety. If you know you are going into a stressful situation, try to do it sans kids.

3. Have a Handy List of Coping Skills

When you get a moment, sit down and think about helpful ways to resolve your anxiety in the moment. Deep breathing, visualization, meditation, and 5-minute time-outs are all examples of ways to potentially reduce anxiety. When your anxiety is on the rise, you are not thinking clearly. Having these coping skills written down and available may make it easier to do what is necessary to calm down.

4. Give Yourself a Break

We all have ugly parenting moments for one reason or another. You deserve compassion and forgiveness for yourself in the times your anxiety negatively affects your parenting. Remember, you are doing the best you can do and beating yourself up won’t help you be a better parent.

5. Get Help

Speak with your doctor, family, friends, or anyone else you trust about your anxiety. Making an appointment with a therapist who specializes in working with anxiety is a good step in learning how to feel better and be a more effective parent. You don’t need to suffer alone with your symptoms. There is help for you.

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Levana Slabodnick, LISW-S, therapist in Columbus, Ohio

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • vera

    vera

    July 11th, 2017 at 8:04 AM

    It was pretty late in the mommy game before I understood that taking care of myself was crucial for being a good mom. I always felt like there was something very significant missing, and I learned finally that it was because I was denying my own needs just to meet those of everyone else. The more that I tried to do for others but failed to do for myself the more depressed I became. The guilt was definitely there when I started taking that time for myself but I have learned to get over all of that and understand that these are the things that actually make me a better mom in the end.

  • Gerald

    Gerald

    July 11th, 2017 at 11:07 AM

    It can certainly get a little tricky around our house because as a parent I struggle at times with feeling overwhelmed, my wife does too and I think that we have inadvertently now passed this trait along to our kids!
    I tell you what, there are those homework nights when I feel like none of us are ever going to make it out alive, but we revert to our basic coping mechanisms, each of us with something different that WORKS for us and we get through it.
    It’s almost like we all get it, we understand each other, and while taking care of our own needs it sort of helps the rest of us along as well.
    At least we don’t seem to feed off of it in a negative way.

  • stressmom

    stressmom

    July 12th, 2017 at 7:50 AM

    wine, people, wine

  • Veronica

    Veronica

    July 13th, 2017 at 8:11 AM

    Having a close network of friends that you know you can depend on does help from time to time take some of that pressure off that any of us can feel in a parenting dilemma. Just knowing that you are not all alone going through this can make a world of difference especially for those of us who are prone to feeling that anxiety and stress very profoundly.

  • Abbey

    Abbey

    July 14th, 2017 at 10:39 AM

    I totally agree with you Veronica.
    We have a little moms group where all of us have kids right around the same age and we will either rotate play dates at our homes or we will go on little field trips together as a group.
    For most of us it is a great way for our kids to get to know how to play well with others but it is also a sounding board for those of us who really need that kind of interaction.
    I think that my daughter enjoys these little get togethers just as much as I do.

  • Stephanie M.

    Stephanie M.

    July 14th, 2017 at 1:37 PM

    I really like this article. It definitely hits home for me and I can relate!

  • theo

    theo

    July 17th, 2017 at 2:08 PM

    Moms and dads both can likely feel a lot of stress from time to time. It can have to do with work, with home life, with any other relationships that you may have. There are always going to be times when you take out those feelings on the others in your house, that is only natural and it is human. It can be even worse though when both of you are experiencing that same stress and pressure at the same time so that neither of you feel like you have that support where you can blow of a little bit of steam. Of course it would be ideal to not go through this at the same time but life doesn’t always have that kind of plan in mind does it?

  • Leila

    Leila

    August 8th, 2017 at 12:05 PM

    Wow I’m hopeful again, been rough, pregnant, reuniting with my oldest after years apart and not to mention toddler. I have a support net, my family and I may be totally difficult but now I know okay I need time out, time for relaxing bubble bath. Essential oils help for real anxiety ridden times. I don’t wish anxiety, any disorder on a person, it’s just a major hold back.

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