Is anxiety always 'bad'?
Having a baby is possibly one of the best ways to raise your anxiety levels.
If you haven’t already been through the trauma of IVF or miscarriage, you might find yourself worried about how much you drank before you found out you were pregnant, how what you’re eating is affecting your baby, whether you are too old to have a baby, whether your partner will make a good father or what will happen to your job or how you will cope with childbirth…
And that’s before you’ve even had your first scan.
The point I’m (rather flippantly) trying to make is that becoming a parent can be fraught with worry. It starts way before conception and snowballs throughout pregnancy and childbirth. Even if you try not to worry, there are plenty of other people that will worry for you.
And if you are someone who is prone to anxiety anyway, this onslaught of advice and guidance, rather than being a help can actually be more of a hindrance.
There was an article recently in the Guardian quoting research by Alison Gopnik (who I really like) talking about the virtues of one way of being a parent over another (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/aug/17/gardener-and-the-carpenter-by-alison-gopnik-review). Whether you agreed with the argument or not, it was yet another example of the pressure on parents to ‘get it right’. Paradoxically, the article was talking about how beneficial it is when parents give their child an environment where they are not scared to make ‘mistakes.’
A bit like the old joke about it being impossible not to think about an elephant when you’re told not to think about an elephant, for some people it can be very difficult not to worry when you’re told not to worry. Every piece of advice talking about the ‘best’ way to look after a child can be a source of worry, rather than a piece of information to be evaluated to help you in your journey as a parent.
Can I bust some a myth right now? Worrying is not bad.
It’s how you cope with it that matters. If you find your life becoming smaller and more restricted because of anxiety, then that’s pretty hard for you, your baby and those around you. Some people experience worry as a kind of ‘inner critic’ who can try to convince you that you really shouldn’t trust yourself.
If you find yourself worried about how much you’re worrying, it’s definitely time to look for some support (which will possibly make you feel more anxious, because of course you wouldn’t need support if you were getting things ‘right’). As well as going to your GP, many people can learn strategies to manage anxiety. As well as counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), there are other things that can help such as emotional freedom technique (or ‘tapping’), meditation, mindfulness, exercise, and laughter (that’s a very useful one). And if you want a list of reassuring statements about anxiety, here are a few:
- Anxiety is useful. It keeps us safe and can galvanise us into action. It is only when we worry too much or become overwhelmed by it that we need to look after it.
- Anxiety is often a perfectly logical response to an event (or series of events). Rather than thinking of the anxiety as ‘ridiculous’, it can sometimes help to realise why the anxiety is in fact perfectly reasonable given your circumstances.
- Anxiety can often respond well to a bit of self-compassion (see number two) and humour. Humour can be a great way of acknowledging our fears without being overwhelmed by them.
I hope that gives you some useful food for thought – if you’d like to know more about how counselling can help you feel less anxious as a parent, then please do get in touch with a counsellor.