I’d like to share a little story about how stress—our own stress that we feel as parents—can show up in the way we parent our children.
About two weeks ago, we were expecting a small snowstorm. We were supposed to be getting around one to two inches. My husband happened to be traveling that night, so he wasn’t going to be home. I thought, eh, one to two inches, no big deal.
Later on in the day, it really was coming down. I thought, “What’s going on?” I hadn’t been on Facebook and I hadn’t turned on the news, so I didn’t know what was going on. And it was seriously coming down, so I opened up Facebook to see what’s going on with the weather, and I read, We’re going to be getting 5 inches, 6 inches, 7 inches.
Concern Sets In
It wasn’t a conscious thing that happened, but all of a sudden, my chest started feeling really compressed. I was having difficulty breathing.
Part of it was awareness. I was feeling some sense of a panic attack or anxiety from this snowstorm that was coming and knowing that my husband was not going to be there. I don’t like being alone with the kids when there’s a major snowstorm. I just get worked up about how I’m going to handle shoveling and taking care of the kids and “what if this”, and “what if that”—that catastrophic thinking that happens with anxiety sometimes.
Response to Stress
So, I felt my chest squeezing in and I thought, alright, I have to take some deep breaths. I have to change my mindset, so I started working on that. But the change doesn’t happen quickly. It took some time, and meanwhile, as I was having these thoughts and these feelings, my kids were going about their afternoon, and I noticed that I started snapping at them.
I wasn’t being horribly mean or anything really terrible, but I was snapping, I was really short: Just do this, Do that, you know, not my typical warm, compassionate parenting style of calm and connection. My verbal tone with my children was similar to how I was feeling on the inside: this compression and tightness.
Time to Breathe
It took me a good half hour or 40 minutes, to be able to get my breathing back in order and be able to focus on more positive thoughts, focus on the strengths that I have, focus on the supports that I have to get me through the snowstorm.
After taking a pause to work on my mindset, I was able to feel much better, which also resulted in me being able to parent from a place of compassion, and not based on the fear and anxiety that I was feeling. (But I’m lucky, because I’ve done all this work on conscious parenting. So for me, that timeframe probably was about an hour.)
Here’s a recap of what happened:
I found out we were having a lot of snow, then I started having these anxious feelings that were noticed in my chest and in my breathing. I started to have the “what if” thoughts swirling through my head. I started snapping at my kids. Finally, I started working on relaxation techniques.
All of that, from start to finish, was about an hour. I was conscious of the process and I had the skills that I have used from Conscious Parenting to help me move through it.
1. I was aware of the physical sensations/feelings that were happening to me, which is one of the first clues when dealing with anxiety.
2. I acknowledged the thoughts that were happening in my head—all the “what ifs” that were going on.
3. I noticed my behavior change- I was snapping at my children.
4. I took notice of my feelings. If you can, take notice of your feelings that are happening on the inside, notice the thoughts in your head, and then notice your behavior—how you’re behaving toward people, whether it’s your spouse or your coworker or your children.
With anxiety, these are three elements that you want to call out. You want to recognize them. You don’t want to suppress them and say this isn’t happening, because it is happening. Call them out! I recognize that my chest is tightening. I recognize that my thoughts are saying, “I’m afraid of having this big snowstorm without my husband here.” I recognize that I’m not treating my children nicely, and I’m being short with them.
As soon as you recognize it you can free it, it open it up, and start moving through those feelings, thoughts and behaviors, moving through them to a different place.