On a normal day, parents feel anxious. But in Covid-times, this is exponential. So what can parents do to get on top of those ‘butterfly feelings’ and free them up to get on with the day? Well there is something that you can do – and if you’re up to the challenge it can be the very thing that makes all the difference to you and your kids…
But first, what exactly is anxiety?
Anxiety is a really tricky thing because if you say “you’re anxious” you’re not exactly explaining WHAT you are feeling. In a way, anxiety is a symptom of a feeling that hasn’t been named yet. It manifests as that jittery energy that bounces around inside you, hoping to be solved. On the outside (in an effort to take this horrible feeling away) you jump from ‘thing’ to ‘thing’ trying to resolve all the obstacles in your day. Like for example you may decide that the anxiety must be due to that work report that must be sent off by 5pm. But then you achieve this goal and you still feel anxious. So then you assume that it must have something to do with that teacher who upset your child, so you put in a complaint at the school. But once that’s sorted out, you still feel on edge. So while you may have let off a little steam, you haven’t really solved the deeper issue. This is because at the heart of your anxiety is a feeling … and beneath that feeling… is an unresolved need that wants to be thought about.
So how can you reduce your anxiety?
If you can find a way to get to the heart of it, you will identify what your need is, and the anxious tension will automatically soften. So how do we do that? Well, anxiety is a little like this: Imagine you walk into a room and you see a distant cousin who typically talks your ear off. When you arrive your heart sinks because you really don’t want to get cornered into a conversation with this person. So you spend the entire time avoiding them, waste all your energy with this task and basically ruin your evening. Anxious thoughts are a little like this ‘chatty cousin’: We spend all our time ignoring these pestering thoughts and use all our time and energy on anything and everything that will distract us from really engaging with the worry. Inevitably though, the anxious feelings return.
But consider this: What if you went into that party, just said hello to your annoying cousin, and just got it over with right from the start. Now you can easily navigate around the room without spending the whole event NOT talking to them. So it’s the same with thoughts: If you are able to just face the difficult thoughts straight on, it may help you understand something important about how you’re feeling, and this will undoubtedly reduce your stress levels.
Why is this especially important for parents?
Being a parent is one of the most challenging and confronting roles in the world. If we are not able to understand our own feelings, how are we ever going to help our kids understand theirs? When parents and kids are merged emotionally it creates really aggravated conditions. Because our anxious feelings are always looking for an outlet, us parents can easily let the anxiety take over and erupt at the slightest irritation by our kids. So for example, your child might forget to charge his ipad for homeschooling and instead of calmly offering an extension cord for the class, you end up lecturing him on his bad behaviour. Surely if we parents can own our emotions, we will then have the capacity to manage our households and contain our kid’s feelings too.
The bottom line
Adulting is no joke. You are entitled to have feelings about it and have all those needs known about. I truly believe that the best thing a parent can do for themselves (and their families) is to find an emotional outlet, like weekly therapy. If you can take at least an hour a week to have a meaningful conversation with someone who can really help you understand what’s bothering you, you will free up space to get on with your day, without pesky old cousins to worry about!