As a parent, you’ve probably heard the phrase “Worrying comes with the job” too many times to count. But what happens when worrying gets out of control?
If you’re worried that you’re worrying too much, try not to fret. Every parent experiences some degree of anxiety. Parents often worry about whether they’re up for the job — “Am I a good parent?” They worry about whether their baby is developing properly — “Is my baby okay?” In many ways, this is typical and even can be beneficial for your little one; it tends to create an alertness to his or her needs, which leads to action if the situation calls for it.
But in some cases, worrying can cross over to preoccupying anxiety, where a parent becomes so worried that it affects their child adversely. The parent’s attention is biased toward appraising danger and threat and in turn can bias the child’s view of the world toward being a dangerous or threatening place. In effect, “over worry” teaches children to be anxious.
More importantly, it profoundly influences the parent/child relationship. Parents who cannot turn off the worry switch have a difficult time being in the moment and being in sync with their child because they are constantly distracted by the possibilities of what may be wrong and what can go wrong. Simply put, worry becomes a main ingredient in the relationship, and worry is the thief of joy.
Worrying can be a slippery slope, but there are ways to take the edge off of it. Follow these steps to help manage your parental anxiety:
- Consider the Likelihood. One big problem with excessive worry is that it often skews us toward catastrophic thinking. When you feel you are headed in this direction, take some quiet time and consider the outcome you’re worried about. What are the chances this could really happen? Designate a spouse or trusted friend to run the scenario by. Do they think it is worth the worry?
- Sort Your Worries. There are two types of worries: those that are within our control to fix and those that are not. Worries that are within your control can be addressed with action, which should help alleviate the stress. For worries not in your control, allow yourself the freedom to let them go.
- Schedule Time to Fret. For some of us, worrying is unavoidable. It is in our nature. If this is the case, schedule time each day to worry. Start by breathing slowly to calm yourself down; this will physically help you process the situation. For situations within your control, commit to using the time to develop action items instead of only thinking of worst-case scenarios. If a worry creeps in during the non-designated time, commit to saving the thought until the scheduled time.
Small doses of parental worry are not necessarily a bad thing, but it can go too far if it becomes all-consuming. Once you get a grip on your worries, focus on enjoying the pleasure of your child’s company and celebrate your newfound ability to be fully in the moment.