Don’t Worry, You Can Handle It
If you're a parent, you probably worry.
It seems to be in the job description.
It doesn’t matter how old your kids get…you’ll probably worry about them til the day you die. I know my parents still worry about me.
Some worry is a good thing, I suppose. If my parents weren’t concerned about me, I’d wonder if they even cared. And a little fear is a normal (and sometimes helpful) reaction to stressful situations. For instance, if you’re worried about not being able to pay the bills on time, fear can motivate you to take action.
But sometimes a parent’s anxiety can take on a life of its own and cause problems for both parent and child.
I’m no stranger to anxiety. I come from a long line of worriers. I’ve struggled with anxiety and panic for years (even before I had kids). I’ve also provided therapy to several children and adults who suffered from all kinds of anxiety disorders (there are about a dozen different ones).
In today’s post, I’m taking a closer look at worry: what it is, the impact it can have on you and your kids, and what you can do to minimize it.
What Is Worry?
Worry is a form of anxiety about the future that constantly asks, “What if?”
- What if my child gets sick?
- What if my child gets hurt?
- What if my child doesn’t get good grades?
- What if my child doesn’t fit in?
…and the list goes on.
Worry scares you with thoughts of catastrophe and worst-case scenarios.
It causes you to constantly be on alert for even the smallest signs of danger.
The Impact of Worry
When you live in a constant state of worry or heightened anxiety, it not only affects you psychologically and behaviorally, but it can literally make your body sick.
When you worry, your body goes into “fight or flight” mode, releasing stress hormones (such as cortisol and adrenaline) that produce symptoms like shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches, muscle tension, nausea, and irritability.
Over time, the excessive flooding of these hormones in the body can be toxic and cause serious physical problems in the digestive, circulatory, and nervous systems. (Yikes!) It can also lower your immune system, making you more susceptible to colds and other illnesses.
Worry affects the brain by making it harder to focus and sleep. Worry speeds up aging and can lead to depression.
Besides negatively impacting you, your worry influences your kids, too. The more you communicate to them that the world is a dangerous place, the more likely it is that they'll develop anxiety, too. They’ll also limit themselves when it comes to exploring new things or taking healthy risks.
So, have I worried you enough about worrying?
How To Worry Less
Worrying doesn’t actually do anything to change a situation. Think about it: worrying won't stop the rain from falling down; it won't stop your child from falling down, either. Eckhart Tolle said, “Worry pretends to be necessary, but serves no useful purpose.”
What we say to ourselves in any situation plays a big part in how we feel about it. Instead of anticipating the worst, you can practice countering your scary and negative thoughts with more realistic and positive ones.
This may not be an easy thing to do, especially if you’ve been in the habit of worrying for a long time. But it can be done.
Here are some ways to start worrying less today:
♦ Rather than dwelling on the worst-case scenario, fill your mind with thoughts about the best-case scenario. Visualize the absolute best outcome and focus on that instead.
♦ Play the “what if” game all the way to the end. What if your child falls and hurts himself? Then he'll have a cut that will bleed and he'll cry. What will you do then? You'll clean him up and give him lots of attention until he calms down. What if he doesn't stop bleeding? You'll take him to the doctor. And so on. When you play this game all the way to the end, the answer always comes down to: “I’ll handle it.” Getting rid of worry, then, is largely a matter of trusting yourself more.
♦ Take action. If you’re worried that your child won’t know how to resist peer pressure, for example, then it may be time to teach her. The more you can prepare your kids to handle different circumstances (through role-play, modeling, conversations, and actual experiences), the better you’ll feel, knowing they're equipped to make good decisions when you’re not around.
♦ Move your body. When you feel yourself worrying, get up and do something physical. Exercise, clean the house…whatever you can to move that anxious energy out of your body.
♦ Stop watching the news. I’ve said it before – the media really does a number on our psyches and makes it seem like everyone is out to get you and your kids. Don’t subject yourself to that sensationalism and “gloom and doom” mentality.
♦ Educate yourself. A while ago, I read a book called Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy and immediately started recommending it to everyone I knew (and even people I didn’t know at soccer practice!). Lenore Skenazy became the center of public debate and was dubbed the “worst mother in the world” in 2008. After her 9-year-old son begged her for weeks to let him ride the NYC subway alone, she finally agreed when she felt confident he was ready to handle it.
She wrote a column about her experience as a mom (and his happy rite of passage) for the New York Sun, and the controversy that followed led her to write a book about the importance of giving kids more freedom without making ourselves sick with worry. The book really helped me relieve a lot of my own fears about my kids’ safety and realize how many of them are, in fact, irrational.
♦ Adopt the mantra: Be here now. Whenever you catch yourself worrying, bring yourself into the present moment and just focus on that. I do this…it really works.
In the comments below, tell me: Are you a worrier? What types of things do you worry about when it comes to your kids? How do you manage your anxiety? Your comments can be so helpful to others who may be experiencing similar concerns, so share away! Hakuna Matata!
If you'd like help to stop your constant worrying, schedule a FREE mini-session with me here.