Now that you’ve normalised your anxiety (see Part 1) and identified your specific triggers (see Part 2), it’s time to challenge your thinking. Why? Because unhelpful thoughts drive our emotions.
When you notice that red flag of anxiety, irritability or low mood, use some calming relaxation strategies. Drop your shoulders, take a few deep breaths (look up diaphragmatic breathing techniques to facilitate this) and ground yourself in the present (check out mindfulness techniques). This relaxation will help your mind to think clearly … then identify WHAT EXACTLY AM I THINKING?
Watch out for these common UNHELPFUL THINKING HABITS:
🔹FORTUNE-TELLING/PREDICTION – Tune into “What if…” future-oriented statements. Predicting worst case scenarios can be either protective or scaremongering. Ask yourself how likely is it to be true? You may need outsiders to help you gain that ‘helicopter view’ of the situation.
🔸SHOULDS – The never-ending list of unrealistic goals and high standards which are overwhelming and demotivate you. e.g., "I should uphold a tidy household and deliver a perfectly joyful experience full of creative pinterest-inspired, educational activities while providing a diverse degustation of foods, while also maintaining a pre-baby appearance” e.g., "I should be happy and grateful for my kids every hour of the day” e.g., "I should love playing” e.g., "I shouldn’t put my kids into daycare so I can have a break or adult stimulation”. If possible, review your values, prioritise your goals and consistently tweek your expectations depending on external/internal factors. Also try to break down mammoth tasks into manageable steps.
🔹ALL/NOTHING – This is your mind’s way of oversimplifying complex situations (e.g., escape if you feel uncomfortable or break up a relationship rather than assertively negotiate how to change it). It is common when striving for perfection. A moderation approach is helpful here. e.g., aiming to walk three times a week rather than every day will avoid a sense of failure e.g., allowing yourself to cook easy meals a couple of times a week e.g., having a half-hour café date with a friend rather than giving up on socialising altogether because you don’t have a big chunk of time to spare
🔸COMPARE & DESPAIR – Comparing our insides with others’ outsides is a recipe for disaster. Too many inaccurate assumptions can be made. Watch out for traps in social media, excessively groomed females, or a snapshot of other’s good toddler behaviour as we don’t know the full story and what it’s really like behind closed doors. We must consider the differences in values, priorities, backgrounds and opportunities –it’s never an even playing field: a ‘comparing apples with oranges’ situation.
🔹SELF-CRITICISM – That self-bully labelling (e.g., “I’m not good enough”), nit-picking at mistakes or excessive self-blaming (e.g., regarding your child’s sleeping and eating abilities). Listen out for ‘always’ or never’ statements you’re saying to yourself or when communicating with others. You don’t need to be overly positive, just realistic. Examine the concrete evidence (like standing in court) to explore whether these self-critical thoughts are actually true. Thoughts are not always facts. Fact.
🔸UNDERESTIMATING YOUR ABILITY TO COPE – notice your strengths, skills and achievements, as small as they may seem. You have no doubt been through challenges in the past (jobs, relationships etc.), so you can recognise some resilience which is transferable to parenthood.
Identifying and challenging these thinking patterns will likely shift your emotions and increase your sense of understanding and control. This will help you act in ways that are more helpful too. The biggest benefit will be for your children who will notice a calmer parent and learn from your role modelling. When possible, chat openly to your supportive friends and family about what thoughts are driving your stress. Normalise them and challenge them together.