How parental anxiety affects children

For some people, it is obvious that parental anxiety affects children, but there are things you can do…Many people with anxiety are aware (sometimes only too aware) that people may notice the symptoms of their anxiety.

Those same people may also wonder why the anxious person is unreliable, cancelling events and social get-togethers, as well as being unhappy to help or participate in quite simple tasks, like making a call on their behalf to check on something whilst they may be at work.

parental anxiety affects children

Hide The Anxiety!

Sometimes, in fact, much of the time, anxious people are able to disguise or avoid the more obvious symptoms of their anxiety amongst friends or even work colleagues. We don’t want to think about how parental anxiety affects children.

The truth, however, is very few anxious people are able to ‘hide’ their anxiety from their family, both immediate family members and their extended family. Unfortunately, children are both sensitive and perceptive of parental behaviours. There is little doubt that parental anxiety affects children significantly.

Oftentimes, parental behaviour may be picked up by children at a subconscious level, which of course, means the child doesn’t realise what is happening and the parent may also be unaware.

A good example of this may be the parent who ‘raises an eyebrow’ before chastising a child. In later life, that same raising of an eyebrow by a work colleague or partner might be the first ‘cue’ to the start of an anxiety/panic attack for our now adult anxiety sufferer.

Are you making your children anxious?

It is generally accepted that parental anxiety affects children but in a ‘trickle-down’ mode. It is equally evident that other events in everyday life may generate anxiety in children; moving house, changing schools, lost pets, grandparents being unwell or passing on, accidents/hospitals, parental arguments, separation and divorce all cause and exacerbate anxiety in children.

This anxiety is unfortunately intensified if parents allow their own anxiety to be observed by their children. On the most simple level, the last thing you want in a crisis situation, as an adult or child, is someone “who panics”. It is infectious in a group, and worrying to an individual.

What can you do?

If you have children and you are an anxious person, what can you do to reduce the risk that your parental anxiety affects children in a negative way?

Firstly, let’s look at all the symptoms that may be observed by your children if you are suffering from anxiety. Some may be an indirect result of the anxiety, like worrying about things that have nothing to do with your anxiety directly.

Also, being irritable and short-tempered, drinking too much to calm your nerves, smoking to alleviate stress, shouting at children, an inability to focus on things and, of course, much, much more.

parental anxiety affects children

The direct results of your anxiety are equally disturbing for children; breathing difficulties, profuse sweating, loss of control, palpitations, trembling, sickness, fainting, blushing, stammering and fear.

On reflection, I guess you’re finding it difficult to think how any child would NOT be aware of those behaviours and symptoms and of course, you are correct.

Honesty is important in your relationship and communication with your children. Use age-appropriate language but you don’t want to burden your children with your fears and anxiety. However, you may feel comfortable with explaining some of your feelings and how you change your feelings in a more positive way, but sometimes it may take a little while, although there is nothing to worry about and you will be fine shortly. In fact, maybe plan a little treat for later.

Managing your anxiety

The first step in managing anxiety is to learn as much as you can about it, as a thorough understanding of your anxiety can in itself reduce its frequency and intensity. It can be tempting to avoid any objects or situations that provoke or aggravate your anxiety, but in the long term, such avoidance behaviour is counterproductive. When anxiety comes, accept it. Do not try to escape from it, but simply wait for it to pass. Easier said than done, of course, but it is important that you should try.

Making a problem list

One effective method of coping with anxiety that is related to a specific object or situation is to make a list of problems to overcome. Then break each problem down into a series of tasks, and rank the tasks in order of difficulty. To take a simple example, a person with a phobia of spiders may first think about spiders, then look at pictures of spiders, then look at real spiders from a safe distance, and so on.

Attempt the easiest task first and keep on returning to it day after day until you feel fairly comfortable with it.

Give yourself as long as you need, then move on to the next task and do the same thing, and so on. Try to adopt a positive outlook: although the symptoms of anxiety can be terrifying, they cannot harm you.

Using self-hypnosis

If a given task or situation is particularly anxiety-provoking, you can use self-hypnosis techniques to manage your anxiety. These self-hypnosis techniques are very similar to those used to manage stress, and can also be used for generalised anxiety, that is, anxiety that is not related to any particular object or situation, but that is free-floating and non-specific. One common and effective strategy, called ‘deep breathing’, involves modifying and regulating your breathing:

  1. Close your eyes.
  2. Breathe in through your nose and hold the air in for several seconds.
  3. Then purse your lips and gradually let the air out, making sure that you let out as much air as you can.
  4. Continue doing this until you are feeling more relaxed.
  5. Visualise yourself in a place where you felt calm and relaxed in the past.
  6. Allow yourself to stay in this state for a few minutes.

A second strategy that is often used together with deep breathing involves using self-hypnosis:

  1. Lying on your back, tighten the muscles in your toes for 10 seconds and then relax them completely.
  2. Do the same for your feet, ankles, and calves, gradually working your way up your body until you reach your head and neck.
  3. Visualise yourself in a place where you felt calm and relaxed in the past.
  4. Allow yourself to stay in this state for a few minutes.

Other general strategies that you can use for relaxing include listening to classical music, taking a hot bath, reading a book or surfing the internet, calling up or meeting a friend, practising yoga or meditation, and playing sports. As you can see, there is no shortage of things that you can do.

Implementing simple lifestyle changes

Simple lifestyle changes can also help to reduce anxiety. These might include:

  • Simplifying your life, even if this means doing less or doing only one thing at a time.
  • Having a schedule and keeping to it.
  • Getting enough sleep.
  • Exercising regularly (for example, walking, swimming, yoga).
  • Eating a balanced diet.
  • Restricting your intake of coffee or alcohol.
  • Taking time out to do the things that you enjoy.
  • Connecting with others and sharing your thoughts and feelings with them.

Take action

If you’re anxious, let me be honest with you, unless you seek help, your children will notice your anxiety at some point. If they notice, there is a possibility they will develop anxiety sooner or later in their life.

I really would encourage you to seek professional help. Anxiety is very common, but importantly it is very ‘fixable’. Hypnotherapy really can transform lives, not just your life but also your children’s life.