Anxiety can make you feel helpless in the best of circumstances. But when you are a parent with a child or children relying on you, that helplessness suddenly magnifies. In her personal essay for the parenting blog “Scary Mommy”, Wendy Wisner explains: “When anxiety strikes, it prevents me from being the mother I want to be. I am not able to be present with my children. I am somewhere else, a captive to my thoughts. I’m supposed to be the grown-up, but I morph into a child—totally powerless and vulnerable.”
Wisner details an experience when her third-grader came home from school with a headache. This arguably normal occurrence caused Wisner’s anxiety to spiral out of control, regardless of that fact that she recognized how irrational her thought process was becoming.
“I couldn’t stop my heart from racing, my legs from turning to jelly, and the ridiculous thoughts from flying through my head. Then I began to worry about the worry. I wondered if my son could pick up on how nervous I was. The last thing I want in the world is for my kids to be infected by my anxiety. I know anxiety so well, and it pains my heart to imagine either of my children having to experience it.”
How to Keep Parenting
For many parents (and non-parents) with anxiety, the first line of defense is medication. Some can cope with preventative medicine and others have a prescription to take as needed. But for some, like Wisner, medication is not an option or doesn’t work. Some people can attend regular therapy which may or may not be supplemented with coping mechanisms to use outside of appointments. These may include breathing exercises, meditation, or other mindfulness activities.
In an article for Parenting.com, Christine Coppa describes some tips that help her whether she is with her children or not. “Break out the Play-Doh or Legos: I find creating something calms me down. Go for a walk…Call a mommy time-out: Let your child have a little screen time while you rest for 15 minutes. Try chamomile tea…Call a friend or family member: If you really need help, there’s no shame in it.”
Coppa also takes medication for her anxiety, and when panic attacks were still breaking through, she went back to her doctor to reconsider her prescriptions. “I had been on Paxil for a few years to help with my anxiety problem, but it didn’t seem to be working that night. I went to my doctor the next day and had my medicine tweaked, and within a week or two I was feeling normal, or as normal as can be. She also prescribed a low count dose of Xanax for emergency situations, like when my heart and mind are racing.” Some anxiety or panic attacks are caused by triggers, but others can come seemingly from nowhere. Recognizing that anxiety and panic are not always rational and sometimes without cause is an important part of managing them in a healthy way.
The Parenting Problem
Anxiety and panic can get even worse when you become a parent. In his article for “Verywell Mind”, Dr. Vincent Iannelli explains: “…just about any parenting problem can become a source of parenting anxiety. From a preschooler who starts waking up in the middle of the night to a toddler who doesn’t want to become potty trained. While these are normal parenting problems that many of us face at one time or another, the anxiety usually comes when a parent begins to feel that the issue won’t ever be resolved.”
Iannelli recommends communication with your partner as well as with other parents and your pediatrician. Keeping these lines of communication open and honest can assure that your own needs as well as the needs of your children are being met. “Taking good care of yourself by eating well, getting a good night’s sleep, and exercising, especially when you feel extra worried and anxious” can be a great first line of defense.
Honesty as the Best Policy
For those parents who still struggle, Wisner recommends being honest with your kids. While she initially tried to hide her anxiety, she realized “…they’re probably sensing something from me anyway, so I might as well just tell them why I can’t really listen to them or play with them.” For her, this tactic has worked wonders. “My kids have been kind to me. They’ve stopped playing and put their hands on my shoulders, said a few kind words, and actually made me feel better. Usually just saying I’m feeling anxious—getting it off my chest—is a huge relief. But there has been something extra reassuring knowing that my kids can hear about my anxiety, be OK with it, and even reassure me.”
Of course, while your children are too young to respond or if they have coping difficulties of their own, this tactic may not work. But opening up to a partner or another parent may offer some relief. Trying to hide or ignore your anxiety may make it worse.
Do you suffer from anxiety as a parent? What are some of your coping techniques?