Becoming a parent delivers a bundle of joy but for some of us, it can also bring a whole new world of worry. Having to be responsible for a mini version of yourself can sometimes initiate the big reveal on your own emotional issues.
But is the anxiety you're feeling just everyday parenting stress — or could it be something more? Below, our expert explains anxiety conditions and how we can manage them while we're raising children. Plus, we look at what you can do if you think you may be experiencing an anxiety condition.
In any one year over two million Australians have anxiety, says Dr Grant Blashki, lead clinical advisor for Beyond Blue. "Anxiety is really common in the community and can happen to anyone. It's a mix of genetics and life circumstances."
So, does parenting actually cause anxiety — or do you already have it? "Anxiety isn't usually caused by one life event like parenting," says Blashki. "Obviously parenting is a really busy time so it can certainly be a contributing factor in exacerbating anxiety."
Is it anxiety – or just everyday stress?
"Because of our language, we often use the words anxiety and stress interchangeably," explains Blashki. "But anxiety is a lot more than just stress. Anxiety interferes with your day-to-day life. Typically, the difference between anxious feelings and an anxiety condition is that the latter is more intense and long lasting, and it makes it hard for you to do the things you need to do each day."
Blashki has these tips for understanding the difference between an anxiety condition and everyday stress:
Consider your feelings. Are your feelings beyond what is reasonable? For example, is your thinking way out of perspective? "Common examples are a sense of dread, catastrophic thinking, black-and- white thinking, and what we call mind reading — thinking everyone is judging you."
Examine your behaviour. Are you starting to avoid anxiety-provoking situations? "Unfortunately, with anxiety over time, people's worlds can become constricted. Perhaps they avoid flying, movie theatres or going to the city. This can develop into agoraphobia, where the person doesn't want to be anywhere they feel trapped."
How can I manage my anxiety while I'm raising children
We all want what's best for our kids and sometimes that can mean giving them space to take healthy risks," says Blashki. "We know that certain parenting styles, like being over-protective, can increase the risk of anxiety in children. Kids need to take risks to learn."
The good news is there are ways to raise a resilient child who is better prepared for life's curve balls.
What to do:
Encourage autonomy. "If there's things they can do — let them do it!" says Blashki. "The message from you as a parent is: I trust you. This is a really good way to build resilience."
Don't emphasise the worst. Anxious parenting can induce worst-case-scenario thinking in children. "If you are a parent who is dragging out every terrible thing that's happening in the news and commenting on it in front of your children, remember kids are watching and modelling your
Blashki recommends encouraging a positive outlook. "It's never been a safer time to be a human being: we've conquered all sorts of diseases; life expectancy is longer; rates of violence are down. An optimistic and realistic view is really useful for your kids. Give them the tools to process the massive band-width of information they're exposed to every day."
Getting help for anxiety:
With the right help and support, you can rise through your fears and be the best parent you can be. "Anxiety is a condition that health professionals are really good at supporting you to manage and early intervention is best, so don't wait to get support," says Blashki.
Do the Beyond Blue Anxiety Quiz here or visit the Beyond Blue forum, where more than one million people a year chat about their issues. Alternatively, visit your GP. "Get a mental health plan, which is a structured assessment that entitles you to Medicare-funded psychology."
And finally? "Keep stretching yourself as a parent," suggests Blashki. "Don't model avoidance and don't over-emphasise dangers."
If you think you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of anxiety, reach out to Beyond Blue for support. Visit https://www.beyondblue.org.au/ to learn more.