I was 19 years old when I first learned I had anxiety. When I was 27, I was officially diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, which is characterized by "excessive anxiety and worry that a person finds difficult to control." The anxiety can become so intense that it affects your sleep and ability to concentrate. At it's worst, it can lead to intense panic attacks.
Through the years I have applied various coping mechanisms that range from therapy, to medication, to getting rid of stressors in my life, to yoga, to decreasing caffeine consumption. (OK, I cut back on coffee but couldn't eliminate it completely.) Upon examining the symptoms of anxiety, it seems to me they are almost synonymous with parenting. Nonetheless, if you are already prone to being a worrier, parenting can intensify your symptoms in some interesting ways:
1. Panic over how you will parent creeps up early
The anxiety which I once had under control seemed to intensify during my pregnancy. While other women were enjoying their impending motherhood, I e-mailed myself parenting articles to read at night. I started saving money in a manic phase for fear that we just would never have enough money to support the baby.
2. You examine every situation and imagine the absolute worst case scenario
Every time we go away for the weekend, I mentally prepare to never see my son again, and I imagine headlines that read, "Couple Dies Tragically en Route to Weekend Retreat." I swear to you, I said final prayers two weeks ago when there was a turbulence on my way back from a work trip. People keep telling you to stop worrying and to calm down. Which, of course, we all know has NEVER worked for anyone EVER.
3. You have memorized the statistical likelihood of terrible things happening to your or your children
You regularly use that data to calm yourself down. If you panic about your kid going to a sleepover at a friend's house, you remind yourself that children are more likely to be molested by a relative than a stranger. Then you make a mental note to call the family and ask them if they have a gun in the house.
Understand that you will never be able to shield your children from everything that is sad, scary or painful.
4. You read every parenting article that tells you how to raise "successful" kids
And on the flip side you also read every depressing article with facts about how global warming will destroy humanity in your child's lifespan. You make another mental note to teach your child survival skills. You start a lot of your sentences with the phrase, "I read a study that said …."
5. It impacts the decisions you make about parenting, because you fear that your child will also live with irrational anxiety like you did as a child
I knew early on I didn't want to co-sleep with my son, because I slept with my parents for many years due to my intense fear of the dark. The longer they delayed forcing me to sleep alone, the more the fear intensified. I wanted him to feel safe sleeping alone from the beginning, and it has worked out so far.
The worst part is that sometimes it's hard to know when my motherly instincts are just manifestations of my anxiety. All this said, don't worry, it's not all terrible. You are your own worst enemy but you are also in charge of the solution.
Here are 3 things you can do to manage parenting with anxiety:
1. Recognize that many of your fears are about things will never materialize
Understand that you will never be able to shield your children from everything that is sad, scary or painful. What you can do is enjoy your life by worrying less. This might require work as it probably doesn't come naturally to you. If you need support, seek it. See a doctor or a therapist, and explore all options available to you. Find community in others who deal with this. One of the best things I ever did during a particularly challenging time of my life was attend a support group for those who suffer from depression and anxiety.
Parenting with anxiety isn't always easy but don't let it deny you of the joys of watching your babies grow and thrive.
2. Understand that your attitude impacts everything else in your life
I have started the practice of affirmations that address my fears. My son has a speech delay, and I have a lot of fear and anxiety around the topic. So I write down things like, "My son will communicate effectively using words." This might sounds really dumb to you, but it works for me and helps me focus at work and get through hard days.
There isn't a one-size-fits-all remedy for managing anxiety but find what works for you. This is something you need to constantly manage at various points in your life. Ironically, during times of stress and when we are most likely to ignore our needs, that is when we need to practice selfcare the most.
3. I have irrational fears about specific things but know that I cannot put that same fear in my child
I purposely let my child explore on his own. I don't want my child growing up with fear of things real and imaginary. I know he is predisposed to being anxious due to genetic nature of the illness, and so I am extra-cautious about being gentle and responsive to his needs. It's the reason why I was so interested in RIE parenting, which is all about being a calm parent.
Parenting with anxiety isn't always easy but don't let it deny you of the joys of watching your babies grow and thrive. As much as parenting has made me anxious, it has also forced me to live less in my head and more in the moment.
It's a work in progress, and I give myself grace on the hard days. After all, each day is a new opportunity to start again.