How to Deal with Anxiety as a Parent
By Connie Leon
Read Time: 7 Minutes
Parenting is hard. It's hard all on its own, so when you throw in all of life's other responsibilities, it can be overwhelming at times. In addition to being a parent, many of us try to be good employees, friends, daughters, sisters, entrepreneurs, volunteers, etc. Sometimes we can go into overload from these stresses in life. So it's important to learn how to stay calm and deal with anxiety before reacting to a situation in a negative way. This is especially true while parenting.
We've all been there. You may be dealing with a stressful situation at work, and at the same time your child does something that upsets you. During these moments we can choose to walk away from the situation, take some deep breaths and work to control our anxiety, or we can “lose it”.
No parent loves the feeling of losing control or reacting impulsively. As parents we know that our reactions to our children can either intensify or reduce the stress of a situation. This is why it is important to have stress management methods in place to help de-escalate a situation!
When it comes to my family, I am constantly re-evaluating how we handle our emotions and manage our stress. As cliché as it may sound, I am always trying to set the example as a parent. I want to be as stable as possible, especially when my children are experiencing psychological stress or displaying signs and symptoms of anxiety themselves. The stress management techniques that we use in our house are either practiced together (with my children), or separately (walk away from my children to focus on my own self-care). Our stress management techniques are broken into two categories: short-term responses and long-term healing.
An immediate response that has helped me is acknowledging that kids are just that – kids. Life is hard even for kids. Toddlers and young children are still developing and have no clue how to handle their own emotions or fully understand what they are going through. Remembering their ages helps give me a little perspective and allows me to give them grace when it's needed. We all have our moments, and not every moment can be perfectly controlled. It's also important to remember, you simply cannot control children and their emotions. This is why we have to have stress reduction techniques in place. Keeping perspective can help you handle your stress and separate yourself from the escalating situation.
You can't control your children's emotions, but you can help them deal with them – as well as control how you respond to their emotional outbursts
Know their stressors too.
My children are 18 months apart and are pre-teens. My son can be the most mellow and chill child, but my daughter interjects just the right dose of chaos to throw him off. I think knowing your kids, their personalities, and what makes them tick are important to consider in dealing with stressful times. For example, I have learned to recognize the signs and symptoms of anxiety in each of my children. I've learned who to talk to first and how to redirect negative behavior. I have figured out what triggers them and sometimes I can stop a fight before it begins. We all know a major cause of stress in parents is when our children fight, so spotting signs early and having a plan in place to reduce the stress is important.
One way that I reduce their stress levels when they are arguing is to talk to them individually about the problem they are experiencing. I first ask them to calm down so we can talk. I give them each a chance to share what happened and their side of the story. During this time, we all remain calm, we take deep breathes, and we lower our voices to help control our anxiety. This isn't always easy but it's helpful in finding solutions. Sometimes I have to raise my voice, especially when I need a behavior to stop immediately, but then I remind myself to stay calm and be neutral. If I remain calm and neutral it helps them remain calm. This is a way for me to help them cope with stress but it's also a chance for me to model the right behavior.
As a single parent I don't always have the option to "escape the situation" so if I do get upset, I try to reflect soon after. My goal is to get us to a place where we all understand why we were upset and how we should react differntly in the future to prevent the same problem from occurring. Sometimes that means I'm the one saying sorry. This is another way I get to model positive behavior for my kids.
Every time a situation arises I use it as a learning lesson. We are constantly learning and growing. We are learning that we don't have to react negatively to another person's actions, and that we can appropriately respond when we are upset. Practicing these things has helped all of us all in a variety of areas.
Coping mechanisms for anxiety should also include long-term healing strategies. These stress reduction techniques take time to master and practice, just like any habit. They involve breaking old habits and creating new ones.
Learning when to walk away.
Learning to walk away to help control anxiety, rather than escalating an argument with your child, is a great tool. Taking a break is one of the most natural remedies for anxiety and it can happen in many forms. Taking a break mentally, emotionally, and physically, when needed, is important. It starts by recognizing when your stress levels begin to rise and knowing when they are going to peak. We need to learn the signs and symptoms of stress in ourselves so we recognize the need to walk away before a situation gets out of control. Start by thinking about the physical symptoms of stress. Your heart might start to race, you might feel yourself getting warm or even hot, and you might begin to fidget. By identifying these signs, you can learn when you need to step away.
If you aren't a walker now, it is something to consider. Parents can use something as simple as walking to help deal with anxiety and relieve stress. Try to add this healthy stress relief activity into your life on a regular basis.
Learning and managing your emotions in stressful situations takes time, so be patient with yourself. Remember that not everything will work the first time around. The more you become aware of your stress levels and can verbalize them (even just to yourself), the easier it will become to see and stop an eruption before it happens. Eventually you'll learn how to better manage stress. It may not always be perfect, but with time, you will find healthy ways to cope with stress. And as you do, it will become more and more natural. I have been a mom for 11 years, and I am still learning how to recognize the signs and symptoms of stress in myself, so I can take care of myself and be a better mother. The good news is that I get better at it all the time.
I've learned that investing in myself helps me to be a better mother. As a creative person, I enjoy self-care in creative outlets like writing and traveling. Sometimes that looks like having 15 minutes of quiet time to myself to write. Sometimes I plan short road trips with my friends, which also helps with my mental self-care. Since I am a single mother and my children go to their dad's house half the time, it's a lot easier to focus on myself and provide the self-care and relaxation that I need to recharge and be a better mother. That doesn't mean self-care is just for parents in my situation though. With a little planning, and often times some help, every parent should try and practice self-care.
Think about what brings you joy and what recharges you. It can be something large or small. Even something as simple as taking a hot shower. Try and plan out little and big ways that you can practice self-care. The bigger the time commitment, the more planning and preparation time you will need. If it's a short exercise class, try and schedule that out a couple days in advance. If it's trip with friends, try to schedule it a few weeks or months in advance. Having a plan will help you prioritize your needs while you also care for your kids.
Another way I take care of myself is with professional help. Seeking professional help is highly important for me and I recommend it for others if it is appropriate for your finanical means. I have a therapist who I speak to as often as I need to help me manage the stress of parenting and my personal life. My kids have also attended therapy to help them manage stress. It is important to constantly work on ourselves. My children understand that having a therapist is a way for self-care, and not something bad.
Make it personal.
It is important to remember that using all of these tools will look different from family to family since no two are the same. When you're thinking about your family, consider your backgrounds, traditions, and culture. Given our Hispanic background and culture, clearing my home and space of negative energy is a must. I wake up certain days and clean my room, change and wash my sheets, and vacuum all while listening to certain music and thinking happy thoughts. Keeping with Hispanic traditions, I burn sage, palo santo, and incense. I light candles and have certain cleansing rituals and meditations that I go through. Sometimes I do this daily for stress release.
Managing Stress and Anxiety in Daily Life
Remember, there are immediate solutions to help you deal with a stressful moment that you are experiencing, and there are long-term techniques. Think about how to add these solutions and stress reducing techniques into your life. Remember to be patient with yourself − life happens. You cannot control every situation. You cannot control every single reaction. Take a deep breath, and walk away if you need to. Have patience and forgiveness for yourself and others. Focus on your self-care daily so your cup isn't empty.