Helping your anxious child when you’re an anxious parent
Over the last few months, as I’ve watched my kids’ anxiety increase, my own anxiety has similarly skyrocketed.
It’s made me think about the reality of being an anxious parent, trying to help my anxious kids. I suspect I’m not the only one in this situation.
I must confess, it’s not an ideal scenario, for any of us.
Despite my best efforts, I find myself projecting my anxiety into all areas of daily life. While I’m trying to remain calm and patient for the sake of my kids, I find myself rushing, never staying “in the moment” and endlessly jumping from one task to another. All in a desperate attempt to address all the fires burning in my life.
My anxiety manifests in a few ways:
- trouble sleeping (particularly getting back to sleep after being awoken during the night)
- inability to focus and concentrate on any task
- difficulty in making simple decisions
- not being able to stay still or relax
- the need to keep busy
- issues with memory (I forget simple things or make silly mistakes)
- constant sense of panic & pressure (I always feel as if I’m forgetting something or need to do something else)
- feeling of weight in my chest and stomach (an uncomfortable physical sensation when I feel overwhelmed).
The last few months have been hard. Gilbert stressed about starting high school throughout the entire summer school holidays. There was no real sense of rest or relaxation. We were all busy trying to keep him calm, coax him into leaving the house and manage our own sense of worry.
When he finally started high school, I thought we’d be over the worst once he knew what to expect. He’d been building his worry up for so long, I hoped some of that would subside once he experienced high school for himself.
Yes, some of his anxiety did ease in those first few weeks, but other sources of stress appeared. As it always tends to do. He now has a set routine but any change to that routine is a big problem. Even though routine change is rare, he is living in a heightened state of anxiety in case anything does change. It’s a vicious cycle.
It’s been a tough few months.
While I anticipated his anxiety, I didn’t anticipate how I’d react to it or how it would affect my own anxiety levels.
I was a mess. During that first week, all my anxiety markers had made their presence felt. I was overwhelmed with everything I had to do, remember and organise. I felt out of control, lost and strained as I tried to keep it together for my son and the rest of the family too.
It’s been a long time since I felt a similar level of anxiety.
Things have settled down a little since that first week but I’ve noticed I’ve been living in a constant state of heightened anxiety too, just like Gilbert. I’m worried about my son and how he’s coping. I’ve had to stay on top of his homework, assessments and tests. I feel I’m worrying for everyone, all the time.
It seems there’s no end in sight.
I’ve had to accept that there’s going to be no quick fix for our situation. But there are strategies I’ve been using to help reduce my own anxiety. I hope a calmer parent will help calm down my anxious kids.
Tips for dealing with your own anxiety as an anxious parent
Don’t forget to tend to your own needs
I’ve banged on about this before but we need to listen to ourselves and tend to our own needs. It’s not easy, particularly when you feel like you have no time for you. Lord knows, I know this feeling well!
But think of it this way. If you don’t invest in yourself, you’re going to be worthless to your family. I suffered a stress related health scare because I didn’t invest in myself. I ignored my needs and didn’t listen to my body. It decided to make me listen, in the scariest way possible, by mimicking a stroke.
Don’t ignore your own needs. Invest in you. Give yourself the chance to breathe, rest and relax. Give yourself permission to take a break and look after yourself. You are worth it.
Do your best to spread the load
Accept that you can’t do it all yourself, even if you believe you can. Especially, if like me, you think you’re the only person who can possibly do it all. And do it properly. You know what? You’re not.
If there’s some way to share the load with others, do it. Ask your partner, family members and close friends to help out. Maybe you can work together to carpool to get your kids to after school activities. Maybe you can come together to share meal prep (and a meal!) once a week. There are so many little ways to spread the load and reduce your feelings of stress and anxiety.
Don’t think you have to bear all the responsibility on your shoulders. Be kind to yourself and spread the load.
Seek help if you need it
If you’re really struggling with your anxiety, nip it in the bud and ask for help. I definitely recommend doing this if your feelings are impacting on your daily life. It’s not normal to be unable to make simple decisions. It’s not normal to feel panicked and stressed ALL THE TIME. It’s not normal to not be able to sleep or rest.
Start by opening up to a trusted friend or family member. They can be a great sounding board and can help you decide if what you’re feeling is something to be concerned about. If so, make an appointment with your GP and talk things over. A good GP can link you up with community resources. They can also refer you to other specialists if needed.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to seek professional advice if you feel things are getting out of control.
Step back and try to let go
Oh, this one is hard. I’m still trying to practice this, unsuccessfully, so far. But it’s important I keep trying and that you give it a go too.
It’s not uncommon for our feelings of anxiety to increase because we’re so involved in every aspect of our kids’ lives.
As a special needs parent, I’ve spent years hovering over my son and ensuring he gets the provisions and support he needs. I’ve also spent years anticipating what may go wrong and coming up with ways to manage them. The result? I’ve come to do more things for him than many other parents typically do for their kids. I now bear a burden of responsibility that many other parents don’t understand or share.
I need to start disengaging a little and encourage my son to step up and take some of this responsibility himself. This will take time. Also, it will, in the short term, increase my feelings of anxiety. But, in the long run, I will develop more confidence in his abilities and he’ll develop more skills and independence too.
Depending on their age and ability, try to take a little step back and see if that helps with your feelings of stress. Taking yourself out of the equation (at least partially) will help you feel less strain and hopefully encourage your kids to take on more responsibility for themselves.
How do you manage you own anxiety as a parent? How do you help your anxious child when you’re an anxious parent?