The Big Elephant in the Room: Anxiety Hidden in Today's Parents.
Let's address the stubborn elephant in the room: the anxiety and concern a parent feels for their offspring is unmatched. That is in no way a bragging rite, trust me. However, I will toot horns on behalf of many parents including my own, when I say this: we hide it extremely well. Like "secret service-well". You see us in yoga classes, supermarkets, libraries, bars, schools, banks - the usual places of work and would-be sanctuary. Acting normal, we tend to get the coffees that fuel our mornings and sit at our desks for our jobs, or go onsite to where ever we spend the next 8-10 hours thinking of the one thing that trumps other concerns: Is/are my child/children safe at school?
Yes, I am talking about the instilled fear and worry in many parents across this nation due to the recent and past school shootings.
Of course, there are other worries too numerous to name. I will not write about them here, but I will honor all parents who suffer from this form of worry. We are a traumatized group and that can be quite an invisible cross to bear.
Besides the media being a huge thorn in my side, my daughter said something in the back seat as she was looking out the window, watching trees and buildings go by. "Mama we had a special drill today." I looked at her in the rear view mirror, "Oh? Like a fire drill?" "No," she said, looking forward now. "We had to shut the lights off, and go to a corner and be very quiet. Mrs. C. had to lock the door and we had to be very still." That wasn't a fire drill. That was a "in case there is a shooter in the hallway" drill is what my mind said. My heart dropped. "But it was a hiding game, so it was fun," she added. And at this point, all parents feel it.
A few days later a letter was mailed out validating the increase in "shootings in churches and schools" and that the district was undergoing safety protocols. I was thankful and saddened...this is what her generation has to learn in their Kindergarten classes. Where we once mocked that Kindergarten was rest time and graham crackers, it's a harsh reality for the parent in us. Hence, the new flavor of anxiety we are tasting because of these events that have happened. Certainly, I have a normal grip on her overall safety - I cut her grapes, I hold her hand, I tell her to walk down the stairs and not run, etc. A rite of passage as a parent is the intense love we have for them balanced with the intense protection we resonate with. And then there's some anxiety thrown in to spice things up.
So, shifting my lens from a parent to a clinician, I have applied these interventions to myself and hope that you do the same if you suffer from the heightened anxiety I do. ::Anxiety Disorders are only when EXCESSIVE feelings of concern and worry last for a certain period of time on a daily basis, interfering with everyday routines and ultimately leading to a point of dysfunction.:: The anxiety I feel for my child is not on a day to day basis and does not interfere with my parenting. See below on how I take care of myself when I get in those moments of worry and concern:
1. Find Support. Now more than ever, it is important to seek out a professional to talk about the anxiety we feel. I see one every month for my own mental health and the fact that I too treat people. It's self-care that EVERYONE needs. You can't be the best you and parent (and therapist) if you do not take care of yourself when needed. Most insurances cover therapy, and some therapists do not except insurances. There are online platforms you can use as well such as BetterHelp.com and Talkspace.com. I have used them before and they are perfect for the working parent who cannot leave their work site. Also there are some online therapists as well, myself incuded. If therapy is truly not something you want, seek solace in your spiritual or religious places of worship. Friends are also a great support system if you feel comfortable with them. Do your research and invest in your care.
2. Fitness. I am someone who needs to be held accountable so I go to Barre and yoga classes offered at my local YMCA. I seriously did not know how tense I was until I was lying like a starfish on my yoga mat.
3. WATER. Drink it. Lots of it, when you can.
4. Got meds? Take em.
5. Listen. Play music (I have a Reiki station on my Pandora) that soothes you or makes you feel happy, when you can. Do you play music throughout your home? Try it. Put on something nostalgic or pleasant. The energy changes, trust me.
6. Explain Yourself. Tell your child/children that taking care of yourself is important. You are not only including them in your plans, but you are modeling at what is appropriate for them when they get older and anxious. No, don't say "Mommy is terrified that something will happen to you" because little ones have the ability to soak up much of what we say and feel like a sponge it's pretty remarkable. So don't state your fears, state your solutions.
7. Practice good sleep hygiene. I go to bed when I am tired and at a reasonable hour because my body will not function if I do not get enough sleep. I will also be moody, groggy and slow. That does not sound like someone who is able to care for another, so again, self-care is vital and sleep is needed. I also use a calming oil from Young Living between my -don't laugh- big toes. This was suggested and sold to me by a sorority sister of mine who swears by its natural and soothing tendencies. I, for one, was never an aromatherapy/oil person - however, I tried it and I can safely say that my sleep has gotten better. So shame on me! And yay for some much needed Zs!
8. Enjoy life. Life can be challenging, yes, but it is also beautiful and delicate adventure. It is what you make of it.
Mental health and wellness is something I've written and trained on in the past. We have to not only parent our children, but we have to parent ourselves. Take care of each other and seek out the joy in your time together.