Living with anxiety on a daily basis can be challenging for many of us. But when we have children, it becomes “next-level” to manage our own symptoms alongside the duties of parenting — especially if we think we should have it all together, all the time.
People with anxiety can and do make wonderful parents. It just means we need to be aware of it and learn to prioritize self-care.
On my lifelong path to well-being, I’ve found tools that provide me with support as someone with anxiety. It also helps to know there are others out there, just like me.
1. Establish good professional support.
Parenting is a massive challenge and most of us need help to get through. That’s why finding caring, professional support is paramount on the journey to managing anxiety. A good general practitioner and therapist can make all the difference in the life of a parent with anxiety, because it means we have support to turn to in times of need.
We don’t always know how to get it right, especially in parenting.
A trusted professional can help us manage our challenging thoughts and feelings as they arise, and steer us towards a better story of parenting based on our values. For the well-being of our family, consulting a professional before making any changes to our medication regime also becomes important. It means we are supported and well-informed on our journey. There’s more than one person to take care of now, so it’s important we let go of the reins and get help when we need it. This is a strength, not a weakness.
2. Implement healthy boundaries.
There are many things that change when we become parents — most of all, our priorities.
As we change, it’s important for bosses, partners and our children to understand what we are capable of within our parenting role. One way we can do this is by implementing healthy boundaries. Implementing healthy boundaries can enable others to know what we are and are not capable of doing each day. For example, if we are feeling overwhelmed with anxiety, saying “No” to a request to help others doesn’t make us a bad person. It just means we are putting ourselves first to regain better health, which can only benefit our family.
Implementing healthy boundaries is about communicating with others and being open to nurturing our own needs. Rather than pushing them aside, we can lean into our needs. If we need help with identifying and establishing our boundaries, a good therapist can help. Knowing what we value most helps saying “No” a bit easier.
3. Ask for help.
Many of us with anxiety have become good at pretending we’re OK when we’re actually not. Asking for help can alleviate the load and remind us, “It’s not all up to me.” This could mean asking another parent from school to collect our child once a week, so we can go to the gym and run off some stress. Or perhaps ask a friend to cook a double batch of her awesome lasagna to keep in the freezer for those nights when there’s no mojo left to cook dinner.
Asking for help allows others to give back to us — and we all know how good it feels to give from the heart. It’s an important skill to learn, and I believe our children can benefit from knowing we can’t always be everything for everyone else. I believe asking for help can enrich our children’s lives with variety and compassion from others around them.
4. Establish a daily self-care ritual.
Self-care will look different at many times during our parenting journey. Some of us intuitively know what is good for us because it feels like a positive relief when we engage in it. Self-care is a way of managing anxiety through a proactive lens. Rather than putting out our internal fires as we experience them, establishing a regular self-care routine reminds us that we matter and our needs are just as important as the needs of our family.
These rituals don’t need to be huge, but they are something we need to practice to fill us up from the inside out. Whether it be a morning meditation, mindful drawing or an afternoon walk with our dog. With frequency, self-care begins to sink in and becomes a habit. It also helps rewire our brains to enable more self-care to unfold, especially when the going gets tough. Even five minutes a day can be helpful.
5. Tell it how it is.
Some days, no matter what we do, we’re going to have a hard day. Rather than trying to push through beyond exhaustion, it’s important to tell our loved ones what life is like for us in the moment. This means telling our partners, “I’m having a rough day with anxiety symptoms. I may need extra help with the kids today, or attend an extra yoga class tonight to help me destress.”
I personally believe it’s important to discuss our anxiety experience with our kids at a level they can understand, to help them gain an understanding and empathy for others. This might sound like, “Mummy’s feelings are a bit sick in my body today. This means today I might need some extra rest, so I can help my feelings relax.” Whether or not we say anything, our children will pick up on our anxious times. Giving children the language and skills to talk about this helps set them up for emotional resilience and tools to manage their own anxieties as they arise in the future, too.
This list is a work in progress and understandably, there are times when I feel challenged to keep up on my self-care. The key is to get back on the bandwagon as soon as I can, and know I am worthy of doing so — anxiety and all.
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