When the worrying gets too much
While it is often very hard to predict what parenting will be like, one thing that many parents do not expect is all of the anxiety and worry that comes as part of the parenting territory.
Worries for parents are many and varied. Worries may be internally focused (such as on you as a parent) or externally focused (such as on your baby). It is not uncommon for first time parents to worry if they will be “good enough” and whether they will even know what to do.
Self-doubts may start to creep in as to whether you are doing things the “right” way and if you are a good parent.
When it comes to your little one, worries can be about anything and everything – such as their health, their wellbeing, their growth and development, their feeding, their sleep, their routine, and on it goes. Worries might also be about significant others in your child’s life and working out the role you want them to play.
Unlike other aspects of parenting, worries are not something that “go away” with time. The nature and topic of the worry just changes as your baby grows. Even though my three children are now at school, I still fret about them just as I did from day one!
Of course, parental worries do not exist in a vacuum. As human beings we will have worries about all areas of our life such as finances, our own health, pandemics, work, social engagements, or even just worrying about worrying.
Although anxiety is very normal (and in fact has kept us alive as a species!) feeling worried can feel pretty awful. It can impact how you feel, how you behave, how you think, how you sleep, how you engage in the world around you and how you cope with, and enjoy, parenthood.
At times it can be tricky to work out, or perhaps even accept, that you are feeling anxious. Often, we are so busy going about our lives we don’t even give ourselves a chance to recognise the signs and symptoms of anxiety. So, let’s go through a few now:
- Worrying thoughts: you may notice constant worrying thoughts. These thoughts might start off with “what if…” or perhaps you might find your thoughts spiraling and imagining the worst-case situation.
- Difficulty sleeping: aside from being woken by your baby, you might find sleeping difficult. For example, you may struggle to fall asleep (perhaps you cannot turn off those worrying thoughts) or you may wake with a sudden ‘fright’ during the night.
- Difficulty concentrating: you might find that your worrying thoughts, or feeling on edge, can make it difficult to concentrate. You may struggle to remember things, or find you need to re-read articles or messages a few times to digest what it is saying.
- Physical changes: when you’re feeling anxious, your body is going to feel it too (this is because of that ‘fight or flight’ response). For example, feeling jittery or on-edge, flushed or sweaty/clammy, headaches or muscle tension, a need to run to the bathroom a lot, or you may notice a feeling of ‘butterflies’ in your stomach.
- Feeling grumpy: when you’re anxious and on-edge, you might also find you feel irritable or grumpy. For example, you might be quick to snap or lose your temper.
- Avoidance: you may find that you want to avoid certain places or people due to your worry. For example, worrying about leaving the house with your baby in case something goes wrong.
If you recognise some of these signs and symptoms of anxiety, you are not alone. All of us, at different times, will feel anxious. The good news is that there are some wonderful techniques to help you manage your worries. Such as:
- Deep breathing: Taking some long, slow, deep breaths is a wonderful way to combat anxiety. Start with exhaling – let all of the air out of your body. Then, slowly breathe in through your nose for a count of 1-2-3-4, HOLD for a count of 1-2, then slowly exhale through your nose for a count of 1-2-3-4-5, then repeat for about 10 breaths (or as many as you like). You can also add some ‘colours’ to the mix: you may like to imagine hot red tension leaving your body on the exhale and blue calming mist coming into your body on the inhale.
- Relaxation techniques: There are some wonderful relaxation techniques around that can really bring about a sense of calm. YouTube is probably the best place to find these – I’d suggest looking up “Progressive Muscle Relaxation” or “The Five-finger Exercise”. Both of these are wonderful techniques. HINT: pick an audio recording of someone’s voice you like!
- Mindfulness: When we feel worried, we can become a bit ‘stuck in our heads’ and we can become completely consumed with our thoughts. Mindfulness is the opposite of this – it is when we are ENGAGED and PRESENT in the world around us, not distracted by our thoughts. To do some simple mindfulness, take a few breaths (as above) and then focus your attention on the world around you. What do you see? Hear? Smell? (use your 5 senses!), and each time a thought pops into your head, let it pass (like a car on a freeway, or a cloud in the sky) and then pull your attention back to the present moment. Taking mindful moments across the day can have a massive impact!
- Relaxing music: Listening to relaxing music can do wonders! At “witching hour”, pop on some calming music in the background and notice how it slows your breathing. In moments of high stress, listening to relaxing music can be really powerful.
- Talking: Talking through how you’re feeling with someone you trust can really help you sort through your worries and gain some perspective from them. Talking to others in similar situations can be really helpful to know you’re not alone in how you feel.
- Exercise: Exercise is one of the best ways to combat worry and all of the physical symptoms (headache, feeling on edge etc.) that accompany it. Any exercise will work but it’s important to pick something you like, so that you feel more inclined to do it. HINT: try and do your exercise in nature as this can really help too!
- Seeing a trusted health professional: if the worries get too much and you find you cannot sleep at all, are constantly feeling down, on edge, or are concerned about the nature of your thoughts, please see a trusted health professional such as your family doctor. You never need to struggle in silence, help is always there and can make such a big difference.
Worries are very normal, especially as a parent! However, if we let them take over, they can really impact how much we enjoy being a parent and thrive in this role. Taking some time to use one or two (or all!) of these techniques might just make the difference.