Parenting with Anxiety
For the sufferer, dealing with anxiety can be all-conquering, consuming your thoughts and mind. Trying to parent with anxiety is hard and overwhelming. How can you cope while a child needs your attention and care?
In this blog, we take a look at practical ways to help you when parenting with anxiety, as well as strategies to overcome those difficult feelings and sensations in the moment.
What is parent anxiety?
Anxiety is a natural physical response to a ‘trigger’, thought or situation that makes us feel fearful, and alters our emotional, mental and physical state. It is important to remember that anxiety is not necessarily a bad thing, though. In stressful situations for example, it helps us to be more alert, and is there to protect us from imminent dangers. However, if you are experiencing anxiety symptoms regularly and at inappropriate moments, then this is where it becomes unhelpful.
Parental Anxiety relates to the role that a person has as a parent or care giver. Being a parent with anxiety can be challenging, but there are things you can do to manage symptoms while providing care and attention for your children.
What helps with anxiety?
Although feelings of parent anxiety can be overwhelming, and at times it can be difficult to see beyond what we are feeling in the present moment, there are plenty of things that we can do to make these feelings more manageable. So, what helps with anxiety?
– Amongst your busy day as a parent, try and find little moments to yourself to unwind. Perhaps before getting the kids up for school, spend 10 minutes practicing some relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or a guided meditation. Why not take a look at our Box Breathing Just Breathe – Spurgeons Family Toolkit animation designed to help those who are parenting with anxiety?
– Sneak in some exercise. Try going for a jog with the kids round the park, a daily walk with the dog, or a 20 minute yoga session in the evening.
– Prioritise sleep. It can be tempting to stay up until 11 to catch your favourite tv show, but to combat anxiety your body needs rest, and lots of it. Try turning in earlier with a good book.
– Get your nutrients. When anxious it can be easy to resort to comfort food or sugar, but providing your body with a healthy diet helps keep anxiety at bay.
– Carve out time to enjoy yourself. Perhaps try a new hobby, meet up with friends for a coffee, or give a new recipe a whirl. Activities like these bring ‘colour’ to your week and help offset the stressful times.
How to model self-care to children
It can be hard to keep a lid on your feelings when you are struggling with anxiety. You may feel bad for showing your feelings in front of your child, but it’s important not to blame yourself. Instead, aim to model healthy coping strategies, which benefit both of you.
If, for example, your child sees you crying, try saying something like ‘Mummy is feeling stressed today. When I’m stressed I find that going to the park helps’, and take your child out with you.
By verbalising your feelings you’re helping your child tune into their own emotions, and showing them how to find solutions to self-soothe.
A helpful strategy for anxiety is to use self-compassion. This means being kind to ourselves and forgiving ourselves. For example, if you’re feeling anxious and bad for something that went wrong today, talk to yourself as you would a good friend- for example, ‘It’s ok, you’re doing your best, nobody is perfect’. You can also model self-compassion to your children, by showing them how to be kind to themselves and not beat themselves up.
Using self-soothing strategies and self-compassion can help calm anxiety greatly, and are useful skills to teach children to manage their own worries.
When you’re struggling to cope
There is no need to suffer with anxiety alone. Contact your GP in the first instance, and be open and honest about how you feel, so that they can decide the best course of action.
They may offer a prescription for an anti-depressant or other drug that can help, and may put you in touch with a local counselling service who can provide support.
Dealing with Anxiety – Techniques that can help
Sometimes when we feel anxious, it is difficult to take a step back and look at things from a different perspective. One way to help our symptoms of parent anxiety can be to focus on the breath. This grounds us, and as a result, slows the heart rate, enabling us to see the world more clearly. Let’s take a look at some practical breathing techniques you can use to calm yourself down in the moment.
7/11 or 5 & 9 BREATHING
Breath is a major component in controlling anxiety. Our breath anchors us, as well as regulating our heart rate and reducing the hormone cortisol that can cause excessive stress levels. Many people do not realise this and do not know how to breathe properly. Breath is used as a focus for the mind in practises such as meditation and mindfulness and when combined with subtle bilateral movement, can bring clarity to the mind and enable us to process negative thoughts.
By closing our eyes and taking a breath in through our nose to the count of 7 (or 5 if preferable / or for children), and then breathing out through our mouth to the count of 11 (or 9 if preferable) for several rounds, we will automatically lower our heart rate and become less panicked. If you can, with your eyes, follow the lines of a window or door frame as you complete the in and out breaths.
You can try to take this breathing a step further and record yourself calmly and slowly reading through the mindfulness passage written below. When you have made a recording on your computer or your phone, find a quiet space and give yourself a few minutes to carry out the practice. It is now yours to have to hand and use whenever you feel you need to take some time out for yourself.
THE 3 MINUTE BREATHING SPACE
You can be seated or laying down, but assume a strong, dignified posture with your feet firmly on the ground. Feel yourself in contact with the ground. Feel the weight going down and the height going up. Now close your eyes.
Step 1 – Noticing
Notice what is going on for you at the moment. Drop into a sense of what is going on for you. Notice feelings in the body and emotions in your physical barometer. Not turning away but noticing your thoughts and feelings. Acknowledge whatever it is that’s happening, not turning away, but staying with the physical sense of what’s going on. Noticing where any thoughts and feelings are within your body.
Step 2 – Gathering
Next place one hand on your chest and the other on your lower stomach whilst focusing on the in and out breaths. Focus on the breath going all the way into the body and then all the way out of the body. Allow the hands to move with your chest and your stomach. If your mind wanders, simply bring it back very gently. In your mind say quietly to yourself, “Breathing in. Breathing out.”
Step 3 – Expanding
Now allow your hands to drop, then allow the breath to fill your whole body. Then, as your breath fills your lungs, imagine it moving right through your body, from the top of your head to the ends of your finger tips and your toes. Take the breath to any areas of discomfort or tension, breathing in to any sensations, and then gently breathing out and letting them go. Then imagine the breath filling the space beyond your body. The space that your body takes up. Imagine yourself in your own protective space.
And now take this new expanded sense of yourself forward, feeling safe, protected and secure.
The Anxiety APPLE
- Acknowledge: Notice and acknowledge the uncertainty as it comes to mind.
- Pause: Don’t react as you normally do. Don’t react at all. Pause and breathe.
- Pull back: Tell yourself this is just the worry talking, and this apparent need for certainty is not helpful and not necessary. It is only a thought or feeling. Don’t believe everything you think. Thoughts are not facts. They are just how we feel and react about a situation.
- Let go: Let go of the negative thought or feeling. It will pass. You don’t have to respond to it. You can imagine the upsetting thought floating away in a bubble or cloud.
- Explore: Explore the present moment, because right now, in this moment, all is well. Notice your breathing and the sensations of your breathing. Notice the ground beneath you. Look around and notice what you see, what you hear, what you can touch, what you can smell. Right now. Then shift your focus of attention to something else – on what you need to do, on what you were doing before you noticed the worry, or do something else – mindfully with your full attention.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Technique
This exercise is for when you feel a panic attack coming on. Together with regulating your breathing, try and focus your mind on the following:
5 THINGS YOU CAN SEE
4 THINGS YOU CAN TOUCH
3 THINGS YOU CAN HEAR
2 THINGS YOU CAN SMELL
1 POSITIVE STATEMENT ABOUT YOURSELF – i.e. I am strong and I can handle this.
Repeat until calm.
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