Parenting 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:
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.
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