Last week, I wrote about mindfulness, time travelling, and the power of ‘eating your strawberry’ in the present moment. I want to take some thoughts from last week and apply that to a topic I feel would be useful for mums – dealing with mum anxiety.
I’m a mother of a teenager. That my friends, means on some days I feel like I’m having a mini panic attack! My favourite triggers – my daughter’s physical and emotional health and well being; her academics - is she choosing the right GSCE subjects, are her teachers supporting her, is she studying hard; her safety – is she safe on her way back from school, is her phone with her so she can message me; social - does she have enough friends, what influences do they have on her… I can go on and on but I’m sure you get the picture. As a mum and a life coach who works with many other mums, I often hear a similar story. I’ve seen this anxiety range from mums of new-borns to mums who have kids going into university and I’m not even sure it ends there.
We live in a time where there’s so much pressure on how we raise our kids and I really wonder if this pressure is causing a shift toward helicopter parenting. If you are wondering what that is, I want to share a passage from an article I read in a parenting magazine on this topic – ‘Helicopter parenting refers to "a style of parents who are over focused on their children. "They typically take too much responsibility for their children's experiences and, specifically, their successes or failures," Dr. Daitch says. "It means being involved in a child's life in a way that is overcontrolling, overprotecting, and overperfecting, in a way that is in excess of responsible parenting.”
Although the term is most often applied to parents of high school or college-aged students helicopter parenting can apply at any age. "In toddlerhood, a helicopter parent might constantly shadow the child, always playing with and directing his behaviour, allowing him zero alone time," Dr. Dunnewold says. In elementary school, helicopter parenting can be revealed through a parent ensuring a child has a certain teacher or coach, selecting the child's friends and activities, or providing disproportionate assistance for homework and school projects.’ One of the consequences of helicopter parenting as you probably have guessed by now is anxiety.
My friends, whether you relate to helicopter parenting or are a mum with small or big parenting stresses and if you are facing anxiety as a result of that, then perhaps we need to explore this a bit more.
So what is anxiety? Anxiety is when we worry that something bad may happen in the future. It’s a result of us mentally time travelling – envisioning future potential problems or going back into the past and focusing on all the times things have gone wrong. When we are in these spaces either in the past or future we get anxious, stressed or upset even though nothing bad is currently happening in the present moment. Our minds are so good at time travelling and visualisation that when we think about scary things our body experiences fear. Our body responds to it physically and emotionally as if the catastrophe we are envisioning is really happening. So then when we have scary thoughts we have scary feelings – our heart starts beating, our breathing shallows, our muscles tense and we go into fight or flight mode. This increases our stress responses and sometimes leads to panic attacks.
I’d like to share some tips on anxiety management that I learnt during my Cognitive behaviour Therapy (CBT) training classes. These are general anxiety management tips and they work in any situation including parenting related anxiety. The true secret to managing anxiety is learning how to make it work for you. I hope you find these tips useful.
Breathing: In any turbulence, connecting to the breath and breathing in and out consciously will help the body come back from the fight or flight mode. I often use this 7/11 breathing technique where you breathe in for 7 counts and breathe out for 11 counts a few times. You can increase or decrease the counts as they suit you but the important thing to remember is to make your out-breaths longer than your in-breaths.
Burn energy: I cannot even begin to emphasise how physical exercise and movement can do wonders to managing anxiety. Going out for a run, yoga, swimming, dancing or any form of working out will instantly bring down stress levels and increase endorphins. Taking your dog out for a walk or even doing 20 jumping jacks in your room can cause a shift. Healthy eating and good nutrition can also contribute to your wellbeing.
Soothing activities: A great way to relax your body and mind is to engage in conscious soothing activities – taking a shower or a warm bath, listening to music, watching a show you like or even doing mundane activities like cooking, cleaning or tidying up. Mundane activities show your brain that things are normal and routine-like.
Present Moment Awareness: We spoke about mindfulness and present moment awareness last week. Connecting with what you see, hear, feel, touch and smell can bring you to the here and now. Engaging in Mindfulness meditation and practice has shown to have tremendous effects in anxiety and stress management. This can help with managing our thoughts – identifying unhealthy thoughts and cultivating healthy ones. As we discussed earlier in my previous posts, our thoughts create our feelings and feelings drive actions and results.
Problem solving and planning: I find this technique really helpful – identifying what is causing the anxiety and finding ways of resolving it by making a plan. For instance if the anxiety is caused because you are worried for your child’s safety then write out what you can do to minimise that and make a plan. In my case my daughter and I have made a plan for when she leaves school in the evening. She messages me when she leaves the school gate, when she gets on the bus and when she’s walking back home. That way we both know that she’s safe and there’s really no need for me to panic or time travel.
My friends, these are general anxiety management tips that you can apply on a daily basis. If you need some deeper work in managing anxiety please reach out to a health care professional. Alternatively, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) coaching can also be an effective method for fighting feelings of stress and anxiety because it identifies the thought patterns that may be causing the pressure. As soon as these unconscious thought patterns are recognised, they can be challenged and dealt with. NLP is also well-known for its effectiveness in helping people cope with fears and phobias. Like with anxiety and stress, NLP can reveal the thought process behind the often ‘irrational’ fear and can help change how a person thinks and feels about what is causing them fear, so that they are no longer afraid. If you want to know more on NLP and how it can help you shift your anxiety or fears, then please reach out to me. I’m a qualified NLP practitioner trained this in area.
Breathing, as you know is a powerful anxiety management tool so I’d like to leave you with this quote – “(Slow breathing) is like an anchor in the midst of an emotional storm: the anchor won't make the storm goes away, but it will hold you steady until it passes.” - Russ Harris