(Part 1) Normalising Anxiety in Parenthood
Anxiety, stress, worry, nervousness, whatever you want to call it, is common. Really common. Often underreported and misunderstood, yet it can be highly distressing and isolating.
Whether your anxiety is mild or more debilitating, it needs to be normalised somewhat. It’s understandable to struggle when adjusting to parenthood. Especially if you come from a polar opposite pre-parenthood life of:
- control and predictability - focused pursuit towards high achievement in your career - freedom and spontaneity - reduced responsibility for others in a full-time capacity - glorious, uninterrupted sleep. Enough said.
Anxiety is also understandable given the intense love you have for your child/ren. This is the innate desire to protect and self-sacrifice, which can sometimes be overwhelming. Unfortunately, these strong emotions can cloud your judgement of what’s realistic and logical.
*Please understand that if your expected bond/attachment does not develop immediately… or if it waivers as they progress through their developmental stages, that does not make you a bad parent. Keep talking to supportive others about this. Anxious guilt is also commonly reported when you bring a sibling into the world – you may have a desire to return to single-child peace and simplicity. Fair enough - juggling can be hard. But try not to think that these negative feelings won’t vacate the premises at some stage.
Let’s not be afraid of anxiety itself – you are unlikely to be going crazy or losing control. You certainly shouldn’t judge yourself for having anxiety - after all, you wouldn’t judge yourself for experiencing the flu during the winter season, right? Anxiety can just be a red flag indicating that:
something is important to you OR something needs to change.
In fact, it can be quite helpful to prepare or problem-solve for the future and to prevent incidents/stressors (e.g., insisting your child wears a helmet to prevent head injury or predicting the chaos of Christmas day so you don’t overcommit to family activities).
ACCEPTANCE VS CHANGE
So, how do you decide whether to accept or work on changing your anxiety?
Ask yourself the following questions: Is my worry helpful? OR…
- Is my worry excessive, distressing, time-consuming, or overly focused on the future at the expense of present enjoyment?
- Are the events I’m predicting in my control or unlikely to occur?
- Is my body in panic mode as it responds to perceived threat (known as the ‘fight or flight response’ with it’s rapid, shallow breathing, heart palpitations and other physiological symptoms)?
- Is my anxiety leading to unhelpful behaviours such as avoidance or escape? (Please note that anxiety and avoidance are best friends so we need to gradually confront those feared situations with support).
It may seem counterintuitive, but if you have persistent anxiety, try not to use excessive distraction to avoid it. Anxiety needs some attention. It needs to be processed. Otherwise, negative or catastrophic thoughts will keep popping into your mind at the most inconvenient times – often when you’re trying to stop and relax or catch those much needed zzzs.
Shine a light on YOUR anxiety to discover your triggers, early warning signs and what is driving it so you can regain some predictability and control… See Part 2 and 3 for more info on how to do this…
If you would like specific help with anxiety or low mood, please consult your local GP or contact me for individual or mini-group therapy (face-to-face and Skype sessions available).