Parental anxiety is widespread. The latest figures from the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) indicate that 40 million US adults carry an anxiety disorder diagnosis each year. This figure doesn’t even reflect the less severe worry and anxiety constricting people’s lives. While we don’t have an exact breakdown of the anxious statistics, in terms of the content and sources of people’s anxiety, it’s a safe bet that anxiety related to parenting is well represented in these shocking figures.
As parents, we seem naturally gifted in the art of worry. We worry about our children’s safety and overall wellbeing. We fear they’re sad or feeling hurt socially. We worry about friend groups and other external influences. We get anxious about homework, grades, and whether they’ll gain admission into a good school and the list goes on.
All of this anxious worrying invites unnecessary stress into our life and the lives of those whom we love, including our children. Healthy, responsible parenting doesn’t need to include chronic worrying and anxiety. In fact, anxiety can interfere with making well-informed, well-integrated decisions as a parent. So in the interest of our own happiness and being the best parent we can be, taking steps to worry less is a worthwhile goal.
Here are some helpful steps to reduce the power and presence of worry and anxiety in your life as a parent.
5 Tips for When You’re Feeling Anxious
1. Raise Self-Awareness
The first step to reigning in parental anxiety is doing a personal inventory — identifying your historical, reoccurring fears and worries that go beyond your role as a parent. Going through this process will help you understand your anxious triggers (those things that cause you to worry and feel under threat) and help you more easily discern if your worry is just that — a worry — or a genuine concern requiring parental action. Here are some self-reflection questions to help you get started:
- Growing up, what made you anxious or caused you to worry?
- What did your parents worry about?
- What did you worry about before you had kids?
- What is your greatest fear in life (think big picture) and why do you think this is your top fear?
2. Spot Worries in the Moment
It’s also helpful to list your top anxious concerns as a parent — those reoccurring worries you know aren’t helpful, even if they are tied to a real concern, such as social rejection at school or procrastinating on homework. Taking appropriate parental action, such as equipping your child with the tools and support in response to bullying, doesn’t require or necessitate anxious rumination. It’s important to separate out worry from thoughtful parental action that isn’t based on emotional reactivity.