My second biggest fear as a parent just may come true. Or it may not. As a psychotherapist who counsels parents of angry, anxious and misguided teens, I sometimes worry that my own kid will get lost in the shuffle.
When this happens I follow a few steps to check if my worries are based in reality, or if I’m just telling myself stories again.
While some of us are wired to be more anxiety-sensitive, the good news is most of our worries are within our control.
The Stories We Weave
Anxiety tricks us into playing mind games to keep ourselves “safe and protected” from bad things happening.
Except bad things rarely happen, yet, we worry constantly.
Anxiety is heritable, yes, but self-awareness can be cultivated. When I stress over my ability to properly raise my 14 year old son, I pick and choose my worry battles. After all, how bad can it be given the fact that he’s healthy, and all, right?
Gratitude and perspective aside, I still fret that he may develop the habit of “preemptive worrying.” This happens when we get all worked up over a problem and then default to believing in the worst case scenario, because as long as we punish ourselves first, then we won’t tempt the Happiness Gods.
Preemptive worry is Enemy #1 to mental health because we see ourselves as helpless and unworthy of good things happening to us. Worst of all, we don’t trust in the world, in others or in ourselves.
I still haven’t found the right words to teach my son the psychological tenet that ‘the world is basically a safe place, where the majority of people possess good will,’ but I’ll keep at it!
When my mind gets caught up in negative feelings and thoughts, I try and resist the urge to bury them, and instead, I allow myself to stew a bit. Our feelings are meant to be felt and dealt with, even though many of us were raised to avoid pain like the plague. And that’s sad because it’s hard to be well-adjusted if your emotional training wheels never came off.
Feelings Always Go Somewhere…
When we hold negative feelings and thoughts close to our heart, we are able to objectively listen for any hidden messages or lessons. The key is to keep reality close, too. It’s tempting to believe that our feelings are true. Sometimes they are, and sometimes they are based on unhealthy and unrealistic thoughts.
Another antidote to anxiety is believing in the power of abundance versus scarcity. Succinctly stated, there is enough money, opportunities, relationships, and resources to go around. Try explaining this to a 14 year venturing into the world of romantic relationships. #Ugh. Luckily I once learned that telling a broken-hearted teen, “Don’t worry — there’s many more fish in the sea” is insensitive and dismissive because adolescents simply do not have the frame of reference to know this is true.
‘Think offense, not defense’ is a huge life lesson I wish I got growing up. I love this one! When we find ourselves in a nervous state, we spin our wheels feeling out of control, and waiting for the other shoe to drop. A healthier option is to adopt a proactive mindset. This keeps us engaged in activities that are healthy, and best of all, we don’t waste time fighting life. When we flip the dial and see ourselves as smart, capable problem-solvers, the world is not such a scary place after all.
The Power of Breathing
Lastly, when worries threaten to hijack my mental real estate, I revel in the simple yet profound act of slow, deep breathing to calm myself. Practicing an easy exercise like the 4-7-8 helps regulates our mind and body: Inhale for a count of four, holding for a count of seven, and exhale for a count of eight.
There is no such thing as living worry-free, but we can learn to manage our worries so they don’t manage us. I’m grateful that my son no longer makes fun of me when I invite him to sit still and take a few deep breaths with me. The other lessons will come with time. Surviving and thriving in parenthood means trusting your instincts, balancing proaction with letting go, and most of all, believing that your consistent hard work pays off in the end.
Just like life itself.
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Until next week…
Yours in calm, confident and in control,