Emotions and Parenting: Managing Anxiety

Special needs mom, Clinical and School Psychologist
09/01/22  1:30 PM PST
emotions and parenting

Don’t Be Afraid to Ride the Wave of Anxiety

As a divorcing mom of 3 and a psychologist who specializes in anxiety, I feel anxious every day. Ironic, right? I sit with and absorb other people’s anxiety, whether they are my patients, my children, my family or my friends. I don’t feel a high level of anxiety every day all day, but there’s some level of anxiety about something, and by the end of the day, I am physically and emotionally exhausted.

When we feel anxious, we often do things to avoid and distract rather than facing what it is that is triggering us or is creating the fear, stress and worry. Many people, including adults, will eat, drink or engage in self harm behaviors in order to run away or quiet down the thoughts. It’s part of our natural instinct to seek pleasure and avoid pain, but with anxiety, engaging in these actions doesn’t make it better or less. In fact, it creates more anxiety that sits, and finds a home, within our bodies. It impacts our mood, decisions, motivation, and our energy, whether we are aware of its impact or not.

It’s also ironic how unsettling moments or times of calm can also be within a person who runs on anxiety.  Thoughts start to pop up, such as “How long will this last? When will the next bad thing happen? This can’t last long – when will the other shoe drop?” we’re afraid of being optimistic and then being let down by life, people or circumstances. We’re wired to wait for things to go wrong, and we anticipate the next thing that will happen so that we aren’t surprised or shocked by something when it does go wrong. We keep our energy up so we can survey for the next potential danger and we don’t let our guard down. Given that we look for those things and are primed to find and see them, they happen, and we say, “Ah-hah! See! This couldn’t last for long!” It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy and an awful cycle.

While we’re on the topic: how about those extremely high standards that we hold ourselves to? We hold ourselves to perfectionist ways that aren’t realistic. We aim to please others and not let them down. We don’t want to upset anyone, so we try to please and feel accomplished and good about ourselves as people when we’ve been able to do things for others that make them happy. We gain our happiness through doing for others, not ourselves. When we fall short from those standards that we set (and we can change), we feel incredibly shameful and guilty. We don’t cut ourselves slack the way we would to another person. We speak unkindly to ourselves; even mean, often. We underestimate the things we’ve done well and capitalize on what we’ve done “wrong.”

Feel It

As humans, our natural tendency when we face anxiety is to run away from it, make it stop, make the feeling go away. How well has that worked for any of us? Not well. I encourage us all to sit with the uncomfortable feelings, think about them, understand where we feel it in our body and what triggered these strong feelings. Rather than reaching for food, alcohol, self harming, or other substances to reduce the feelings or to create numbness, speak to yourself the way you would to a friend who was struggling:

  • What are you feeling?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how intense is this feeling?
  • Do you feel shameful?
  • Do you feel guilty?
  • How come?
  • What can you do right now to manage these strong feelings?
  • This feeling will pass. Like an ocean wave, these strong feelings will pass through me.

Move Your Body

Anxiety causes us to pump large amount of cortisol into our bodies. Cortisol is the neurochemical that we need to gear our body up for when we are in danger. With anxiety, the perceived danger is within our perception, but our body doesn’t know that and we end up releasing a ton of energy and adrenaline to keep ourselves safe from the figurative lion. This creates physical and emotional exhaustion on a daily basis.

Move your body however you choose. Walk, jog, take organized classes, weight training, swimming, yoga. Whichever activity appeals to you, do it on a regular basis as a way to pump endorphins into your system and decrease the stressful feelings that sit and reside in your body.

Journal and Talk About It

When you find yourself plagued by repetitive anxious thoughts, give them a home. If you like to use a pen and physical journal, keep one with you. You can also use a google doc on your phone or any other space where you can give your thoughts a physical home rather than swimming around in your mind. Once your thoughts become tangible, often times they lose their immense emotional hold on you.

Another strategy I like is to give yourself 5 minutes in the morning and/or 5 minutes before bed for a ‘mind dump.’ A mind dump is a time and place to write whatever comes to mind, unfiltered. This will allow you to read your thoughts at a later time and find your patterns. These patterns can be insightful to you and help you find the root.

You may also choose to speak with a mental health professional who can ask you the types of questions that will trigger thought about the roots of your ideas and how they impact your body, thoughts, and decisions.

The experience of anxiety can be intense, overwhelming and exhausting. Sit with your feelings, move your body and write or talk about it. Take it just one moment at a time and one day at a time. You will watch your mental strength increase as you work on understanding your anxiety.

Recent Caregivers

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *