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.

 worry

 

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

Showing 12 comments
  • Daniellw
    Reply

    Thank you for this post! I found it after reading about kindergarten anxiety, which I’m experiencing this week!

    The very thing I worry most about, our health, is the very thing that is negatively impacted by worry! It’s a horrible cycle. I’ve always worried about getting sick, and it has only gotten more challenging since having a young child, kids are so germy! I’m guilty of the slippery slope; what if this cold is something worse and she gets really sick blah blah blah 😉

    One good reminder for me is that every cold we’ve gotten we have recovered from. I try to remind myself if that when we get sick. Starting kindergarten and not being able to make sure she is washing her hands or putting things in her mouth she shouldn’t makes me worry, but I’m going to try my best to not!

    • Pam Howard
      Reply

      Hi Danielle! I know how you feel about the germs and getting sick, and I like your thought about recovering from every cold. It’s also good for you to know that it’s completely normal for kids to get colds anywhere from 4-12 times a year. While we don’t have control over what our kids do at school, we do have control over helping them develop good hand-washing habits, packing healthy lunches, and setting up good bedtime routines to keep them as healthy as possible. Thanks for your comment and good luck with Kindergarten. You’ve got this, Mama! 🙂

  • Lori
    Reply

    I am a worrier but sort of a reformed one. I work on it daily. Sometimes with exercise (which I do daily) sometimes with 4-7-8 breathing – my go to “sleeping pill” and very often with self-talk. Lately I worry about my motivation for certain parenting decisions – meaning the sometimes conflict between self-care and my child’s best interest. For example I’m ready to end an activity he’s been doing for a long time now and is ambivalent about. It’s a ridiculously complicated “shlep” to get there but obviously I worry about how to balance that against the benefits to him of the activity. What fuels the worry partially is the pressure I feel to have him involved in either a team sport or sport like activity. When I was younger – grew up in the 70s, we had our son later in life – there was not this emphasis on activities and scheduling. I think it’s silly for me to give in to the pressure and honestly I feel myself doing it. Facebook doesn’t help ! Thanks for this blog post and for welcoming comments.

    • Pam Howard
      Reply

      Hey Lori! The pressure you feel is self-generated — meaning, it comes from your thoughts and not from anything external.
      Make a list of reasons you want to keep your son in his activity and a list of reasons you don’t. Then ask yourself whether you like your reasons for each. Let me know what you discover!

  • Y
    Reply

    I am going to buy the book:) Thanks

  • Kristy
    Reply

    Pam this is such a thorough blog post about a topic that I am sure all of us can relate to- worry.

    I agree that worrying appears to be an inherent part of parenting. I feel it myself as a Mum. I also see it with the parents I work with who are worried about technology and how it’s impacting on their child.

    Hakuna Matatta has been a phrase that I have been using with my 3 year old when he worries about things. I’ve found It really helpful for him and a great reminder for me not to sweat the small stuff!

    Kristy

    • Pam Howard
      Reply

      Hi Kristy! Navigating the online world with kids can be scary, so I’m sure you deal with a lot of worried folks. Your work is so important to help us sort through what we should really be concerned about. I just had to include “Hakuna Matata” at the end of the post because Dalia is currently OBSESSED with all things Lion King.

  • Clare Greig
    Reply

    “Worries like a rocking chair, it’s just something to do but it don’t get you nowhere.”

    This is a great blog, goodness me parenting can be worrying! Like you say it is contangious and passes on through generations.

    Meditation is always my helping hand. I love these tips. Thanks so much Pam.
    Clare

    • Pam Howard
      Reply

      Thanks, Clare! Meditation is great for focusing on the here and now and calming down. You can introduce it to your kids, too!

  • Dana
    Reply

    Hi Pam! Great post.
    I am a worrier, but I’m focused more on if I am doing the “right” thing. I try to remind myself that I am giving my daughter the most important things no matter what- love, acceptance, affection, etc…. and that I am allowed to make mistakes. This positive self-talk helps me calm down.
    xo
    Dana

    • Pam Howard
      Reply

      Hi Dana! Yup, your worry is the same kind of thing: What if I’m not doing enough? What if I should be doing something different? What if, what if, what if! It’s great that you’re so aware of your anxiety and that you’re already using positive self-talk to help tame it. Keep it up and thank you for your comment. xoxo

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