Anxiety in families
The household seems on the edge of chaos. Nothing seems to be happening. Parents are worrying about the children. The children are staying away from the adults for fear of the reaction that they might get. Everyone is trying their best but somehow no-one is having a good time. Welcome to the anxious household.
Anxiety might be defined as the fear of fear. The fear of what might happen. It sets us up to defend ourselves or to run away from threats. It is an irrational fear since there is rarely an obvious threat like a tiger or a man waving an axe. Yet it produces physical, emotional and behavioural changes in us all. We may feel stressed, or have a headache, perhaps we lose our temper more easily or perhaps we find it difficult to make decisions.
Parents naturally want the best for their children and try to manage the threats and opportunities that present themselves. This is a mix of things such as making sure that there is enough food in the house, through managing family diaries to making sure homework is completed. Parents often find themselves worrying about their children’s worries (or perceived worries). Conversely, the children see their worried parents and worry that they may not be the solid, reliable rock that is their anchor and they start to worry about their parents worry.
Often it can be helpful for families to be honest about these big issues within the family, which can cause false worries. Being open about debt or someone losing their job can often make a big difference. Often we focus on what could go wrong rather than the flip side. When was the last time you asked yourself, “What if it all went really well? How would we cope?” We struggle trying to get it perfect rather than celebrating the success we do achieve. I am sure that we have all heard the joke of the student who comes home with his report card with 5 “A”s and a “B” and his father says so what did you do wrong to get the “B”. Yet this demonstrates well the all or nothing thinking that can happen.
It can be really important to stay in the present moment and remember the positives. Remember that we learn by mistakes and letting ourselves and our kids make them, is key to our family growing. It can be easy to assume that others have our levels of maturity and experience yet especially for children this can be a high barrier to overcome in families. Intellectual maturity often masks emotional immaturity. Children can often hold back from talking because of fear of the consequences.
The key as so often is time and compromise. Create safe space where you can listen and be with each other. Recognise that is not going to be perfect for everyone. Not everyone will get their perfect activity but if you are connecting with family there is something positive to be had for all. Where this is proving impossible perhaps the best way forward is with a therapist who can help you to re-connect and enjoy an anxiety free family again.
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About Graeme Orr
Graeme is a counsellor and author living and working on the south side of Glasgow. In his practice he sees a number of clients with emotional, anxiety and self-esteem that have relevance to us all. His articles are based on that experience and are offered as an opportunity to identify with, or to challenge you to make changes in your life.