I often write about helping kids cope with anxiety or recognizing anxiety in children, but what about when parents are dealing with anxiety themselves?

Anxiety can be sneaky. It’s often not immediately recognized as anxiety and it can sometimes feel like it comes out of nowhere. Anxiety can be a pounding heart, an upset stomach, difficulty breathing, racing thoughts that can’t be slowed down, or endless worry. People often aren’t ready to call it “anxiety”. After all, don’t all parents worry about their kids? Of course they do! But if that worry is consuming your mental space, and preventing you or your child from doing things that you want to do and living the life you want to live, anxiety might be at work.

Examples of anxiety in parents might include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep due worry, not being able to “turn off” your thoughts.
  • Dreading or worrying about your child dying or being injured to the point that it prevents you from doing things, for example not going back to work or not allowing them to go to daycare because they might die or be kidnapped; picturing all the terrible things that could happen to them.
  • Heart pounding or racing, feelings of panic
  • Feelings of extreme stress and irritability; snapping or blowing up over minor issues
  • “Perfectionism” or feeling like you have to do everything exactly right for your child all the time, never feeling “good enough”
  • Constant tightness and tension, difficulty relaxing; feeling like if you ever stop or rest everything will fall apart.

It’s important to remember that any one of these doesn’t necessarily mean you are struggling with anxiety. And yes, to some extent, all parents will have these feelings from time to time. But look at the overall pattern. Is it getting in the way of you enjoying your life? Is your child picking up on your anxiety?

I have personally struggled with anxiety and know how difficult it can be to recognize. For me, I didn’t realize that’s what I was experiencing until I woke up in the middle of the night with my heart racing, feeling certain that I needed to check on my sleeping child to make sure he was still alive. For some reason, that experience helped me connect the dots. I knew it wasn’t normal for me. I had been feeling constantly on edge, snapping at others, always feeling tense and like I wasn’t doing enough. Once I recognized what was happening, I started going to therapy again, attending yoga class, getting back into a regular exercise routine, and learned to remind myself that these thoughts and feelings were coming from anxiety and not grounded in reality.

If you do realize you might be dealing with anxiety, there are many things that can help. Mindfulness and breathing exercises, yoga, or exercise can help. If you feel you need professional support, find a good therapist who specializes in anxiety or talk to your doctor about medication that can help.