Parenting Anxiety And Stress

by | April 23, 2018

Parenting anxiety and stress often go hand in hand.
It’s normal for us to occasionally worry about things, and anxiety takes it to a whole new level. Anxiety is like a fog that permeates our lives, clouding our thinking and overshadowing our emotions. There’s thousands of things to worry about. Our kids’ development, behavior, friendships, screen time, and academic scores. Or if there’s nothing to worry about – then we worry about that too.
Parenting anxiety comes and goes. Sometimes it’s mild, causing discomfort and distress but not necessarily affecting our ability to function. Sometimes, it’s severe and debilitating.
There are many ways to manage anxiety, some of which might involve seeking support from a professional, like a psychologist, psychiatrist, our counsellor. In addition, managing anxiety can involve adjusting our everyday habits and coping skills.
Most of us have grown up believing that worry, stress, and anxiety are “bad” emotions, because they feel uncomfortable. We may have trained ourselves to ignore, avoid, or suppress these feelings, with food, alcohol, or distractions like TV and Internet. In fact, we may have trained ourselves so well that we turn to these coping methods without really thinking about whether there’s a better way.
1. Change the way we think about anxiety
We live in a “positive mental attitude only” society, where uncomfortable emotions are viewed as weaknesses or personality flaws.
The reality is that emotions developed out of necessity – to survive. Anxiety has a useful purpose. If we have a pressing deadline, or an important upcoming event, anxiety is what propels us to keep working, planning, and preparing. The goal is not to eliminate anxiety completely, but to recognise and harness useful anxiety, and to turn the volume down on the not-useful or debilitating anxiety.
2. Turning the anxiety volume down
The anxiety alarm bells are ringing, and we feel like we’re being suffocated with anxiety. Now what?
To turn down the volume on our anxiety, we first need to decide whether it’s useful anxiety or not. This means, examining the source of anxiety and making a rational, reasoned evaluation about it.
The problem is, it’s really difficult to be rational when we’re in it’s grip.
Labeling our anxiety can help engage our logical thinking skills, and reduce the “fight or flight” response, allowing us to think more objectively about our situation in a solution-focused manner. Simply saying “I am feeling anxious right now” kickstarts the process.
From there, we can employ several tactics to reduce the hold that anxiety has over us.

3.  Work it out

Stress hormones causes us to feel agitated and tense, which is why we fidget or pace the room when we’re anxious. The only way to efficiently and healthily diffuse them from our body, is to move. This could mean taking a walk, squeezing a stress ball, or running around after the kids.
The process of “working off” our stress hormones allows our brain to calm down and engage in logical thinking, which means that we can deal with the underlying cause of stress in a rational way.
4. Slow it down
When we’re anxious, our thoughts become turbo-charged. We could wait until the anxiety abates (which could take a while), or until we actively work off our stress hormones and develop ways for us to slow our own minds down.
Most of us aren’t too good at slowing down our thoughts, especially when we’re stressed. So, we must teach our brains to slow down, through deliberate and regular practice. The better we become at slowing down during emotionally neutral times, the better we’ll be able to cope during anxious times.
Activities like yoga, meditation, and mindfulness are designed to slow our mind, which makes it easier for us to think clearly and calmly. When we slow down, we have more time to evaluate the anxious thoughts that are flying through our brain.
As busy parents, it can be difficult to make the time to slow down. The best method is the one that’s sustainable, whether it’s a yoga tutorial on YouTube or a meditation app, or simply counting breaths. It could be for 60 seconds or 60 minutes per day. Everyone can do something, and something is better than nothing. Don’t worry about becoming a Zen master by the end of the week – just start somewhere.
5. Out-smart your thinking
Once we’ve engaged our logical mind, the real work begins. This is where we critically evaluate the thoughts that are racing through our minds, and questioning their validity. Are our thoughts true, or exaggerated? Are we over-estimating the impact that an event will have on us, or the likelihood of it occurring at all? Are we hyper-focused on the worst possible outcome of a situation, without considering the alternatives?
Through the process of meditation and mindfulness, we may find ourselves re-thinking the contents of our thinking, or taking a different perspective on our situation. Writing down our thoughts (through journalling or stream of consciousness writing) can help identify common themes or recurrent patterns of thinking that enhance our anxiety and derail our coping skills.
Please note that these tips are not intended to constitute medical advice or individualised psychological therapy. If you, or someone close to you, is experiencing severe anxiety, I strongly encourage you to contact your local doctor for referral to an appropriate support service.

Dr. Ash Nayate is a neuropsychologist, activist, and vegan mum, who is passionate about animal rights and children’s rights. She seeks to challenge mainstream stereotypes about vegans, particularly those around mental health, raising vegan children, and staying positive in a non-vegan world. Ash has been working with kids and families for 15 years, in private practice as well as major public hospitals in her hometown of Melbourne, Australia. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or her Website.


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