This post is also available in: Svenska
Worrying about children is part of parenting. At the start of a school year, a part of you begins to worry. Will your children make friends? Will they get sick? Will they die?
We also notice at the children’s hospital that many parents are anxious. This post will help you recognize when your ‘worrying’ becomes disproportionate and what to do about it.
Worrying about children – common in parents
Most people worry about the future, the environment or about someone else. Many people notice that anxiety becomes a more common and intense feeling when they have children. And of course, parenting is an almost inexhaustible source of fear and anxiety around, more or less, likely dangers. What if my child is left alone? Do they have a terrible, undiagnosed illness? If you notice that your worrying about your children, or your parenting, takes up too much space in your life, there are things you can do so that the worry only takes up enough space.
Worrying comes from thoughts about the future that do not lead to anything further
When you worry, you almost always think quietly to yourself. These are quick and not completely conscious thoughts. The thoughts that cause anxiety can be formulated in words. If you try to pay attention to the thoughts that move through your head when you feel anxious, you may notice that they can very often be formulated with a sentence that begins with “what if…”
“What if my child has cancer”
“What if I hurt my child by working so hard”
“What if my child is alone at school”
You may notice that you are almost always worried about something that will happen – or rather, about something that could happen. But the anxious thoughts are usually like blurred photographs. It is difficult to know exactly what they represent. What is it that could go so wrong? When will it happen?
Worrying is not way of solving problems
One of the strangest things about worrying, is it does not move forward. When you worry about things that really matter, it’s easy to imagine yourself dealing with it by thinking through them. Many of us believe that worrying will help with the anxiety. Imagine what would happen if I did not worry about my child’s health? What if I were to miss a weird spot on their skin? Forget a doctor’s appointment?
It feels indispensable and, at the same time, both vital and unbearable. Very often, worrying actually leads to passivity. The more you worry, the more unbearable you feel. Instead of facing it, you refrain from doing anything at all. Except just that: worry.
What should I do instead?
If you recognize yourself becoming anxious, you can try to challenge your thoughts. You can try to think of a time in your life when you have been really worried. Could you have done better by worrying a little more? Did the anxiety lead you to change something in your way of dealing with life?
Worrying causes the difficult feelings to live on
Not only do problems seem insoluble, worrying can also cause emotions such as fear, sadness and anxiety to linger. When we become afraid, the brain and body react in a way that prepares for defense: vigilance increases, we sweat, the heart beats more slowly at first and then faster and faster. These, and several other reactions, are triggered in some of the oldest parts of the brain. It is normal for them to eventually ebb. Partly because other parts of the brain can control them. But anxiety seems to be able to add to it all. When you worry, the fear and anxiety become less intense and does not ebb as it would otherwise.
In psychological experiments, bodily signs of fear and anxiety continue to last longer for those who worry about something they’ve been through, than for others. In everyday life, it’s noticeable that anxiety usually goes hand in hand with discomfort, bad mood and sadness.
Map out your concerns
If you feel that your worries have taken up too much of your time and energy, there are some things you can do. The first is to get to know your concerns. Those thoughts that go through your head, what are they really about? Pay attention to them, and feel free to write them down. That way, you can try to question them. How likely is it that you are afraid that your children might suffer? Are there other ways to look at it? Do not push or deny, but try to investigate the matter with wise arguments.
Solve the problems
The second piece of advice is to give yourself time to solve problems you are worried about. Set a time – maybe an hour on Sunday night – when you really devote yourself to coming up with solutions. Be very specific. Maybe write down what to do and how. Ask for help from someone else if you think it helps and if you have the opportunity.
Do you have a duty to worry?
The third piece of advice, is to think through your own notions of anxiety. Do you have thoughts that you need to worry about? For your sake or for someone else’s? Do you think that anxiety is beneficial? Do you think that anxiety is a kind of duty? Such perceptions are often ingrained, almost automatic, and can be difficult to grasp. But challenging them can be a way to let go of anxiety.
When do you need help from others?
If the anxiety becomes so strong and difficult to control that it prevents you from living your life, seek a psychologist or doctor for advice and help. Severe anxiety can be part of a psychiatric condition, such as generalized anxiety disorder / generalized anxiety disorder or depression. A psychologist or doctor can help with an assessment, diagnosis and treatment.