To get a profile of your parental anxiety, write down the specific distressing thoughts that come into your mind. Try to label the emotion(s) attached to the worry. Is it restlessness? Panic? Insecurity? Loss of control? Also, try to locate where you feel the anxiety in your body. Abdomen? Chest? The goal is to create a mental, emotional, and physical profile for the familiar anxious experience.
Once you’ve created the profile, work on spotting the worries early before they’ve gained momentum and traction in your mind. Notice when you go away in your head and start fueling the worrisome thoughts with your preoccupied attention — running the worry through your mind over and over. When you catch yourself drifting with one of the well-identified worries, try to rotate your attention and life energy to the external world, focusing on the task at hand or the person in front of you.
3. Delay the Worry
When you’re caught up in the anxious experience, you may find it difficult to tell the difference between needless worries and a real problem requiring action. For some parents, for example, a child’s complaint of a stomach ache can instantly trigger fears and images of a bursting appendix. If you know health anxiety — or whatever the fear might be — is a repeating theme, try instituting a -minute delay. Set a timer and say to yourself, Ok, for the next  minutes I’m not going to allow myself to think about, problem solve, or monitor the anxious concern. Then you engage in a healthy distraction, reevaluating the concern — if needed — in  minutes. After the delay, you’ll likely have a more balanced perspective on the issue.
4. Practice Mindfulness
It’s never easy to feel anxious and you can’t always prevent worries from showing up — at times they are unwelcome visitors. In these spaces, you want to respond in a way that will defuse the anxious thoughts and feelings. Applying mindfulness principles can help. Try these [three] simple steps when you feel emotionally flooded and overwhelmed:
- Feel your feet on the ground
- Take a few deep breaths; notice and loosen any tight muscles in your body, and remind yourself to relax.
- Rotate your mental attention to the external world, hyperfocusing on the immediate environment using one or more of the five senses (sight, smell, touch, sound, and taste). One example would be attuning to all the sounds you can detect for a couple of minutes or carefully inspecting something visually in your environment.
5. Find Ways to Unplug & Relax
Raising kids is hard work, requiring your time and focus. Make sure, however, that the children aren’t your sole focus, where you neglect your own needs and person. It’s important to carve out time to de-stress, do things for yourself, and engage in activities that feed your soul. Maybe that’s hiking or spending time with friends or just having quiet time in the bedroom at night where family members know not to disturb. Spend some time figuring out what you need to stay positive and balanced as a person and then build these activities into the schedule.
It’s normal to worry and feel anxious as a parent. That doesn’t mean, however, that we should accept the status quo. You can take concrete steps to worry less and reduce anxiety in you and make the home environment less stressful. Try implementing the five steps outlined above in your quest to be a less anxious parent.
Dr. Scott Symington is the author of “Freedom from Anxious Thoughts and Feelings: A Two-Step Mindfulness Approach for Moving Beyond Fear and Worry.” He is a licensed clinical psychologist dedicated to helping adults overcome worry and anxiety, negative moods, addictive behaviors, and other conditions stealing people’s joy and freedom. For more information, please visit, www.drsymington.com and connect with him on Twitter, @drsymington.