If you’re a parent, anxiety comes with the job, but not all anxiety is healthy. And what if you pass your fears along to your kids?
Don’t worry! Pasadena-based clinical psychologist and dad Scott Symington, Ph.D., author of “Freedom from Anxious Thoughts and Feelings: A Two-Step Mindfulness Approach for Moving Beyond Fear and Worry,” offers five strategies for keeping unhelpful parental anxiety in check.
1. Raise self-awareness. Start by identifying fears that go beyond your role as a parent. “This will help you understand your anxious triggers (those things that cause you to worry and feel under threat) and help you more easily discern if your worry is just that – a worry – or a genuine concern requiring parental action,” Symington says. He suggests asking yourself:
- Growing up, what made me anxious?
- What did my parents worry about?
- What did I worry about before I had kids?
- What is my greatest fear in life and why do I think this is my top fear?
2. Spot worries in the moment. Next, list your top recurring worries as a parent. Label the emotions attached to these worries and try to locate where you feel the anxiety in your body so that you have a mental, emotional and physical profile for the anxious experience.
Notice when you start 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,” says Symington.
3. Delay the worry. You may find it difficult to tell the difference between needless worries and a real problem requiring action. When confronted with a worry (such as a health issue) that you know is a repeating theme, set a timer, engage in a healthy distraction and reevaluate the concern in 10 minutes. You’ll likely have a more balanced perspective on the issue.
4. Practice mindfulness. You can’t always prevent worries from showing up, but you can respond in a way that will defuse the anxious thoughts and feelings:
- Feel your feet on the ground.
- Take a few deep breaths, loosen any tight muscles in your body and remind yourself to relax.
- Focus on the immediate environment by using your senses. For example, attune to all the sounds you can detect for a couple of minutes or carefully inspect something visually.
5. Find ways to unplug. “It’s important to carve out time to de-stress, do things for yourself and engage in activities that feed your soul,” Symington says. Whether that’s hiking, time with friends or just a little quiet time, figure out what you need and build these activities into your schedule.