I have been experiencing very intense anxiety the last few months and I realized that I am experiencing exactly what I swore I never would, as a parent.
So… today I ask and explore the question
Why are parents so anxious?
Before I had children ( in fact, when I was deciding if I even wanted them) I took to google to ask this question, because I was genuinely curious. As a clueless observer of parents, this was something I noticed. Anxious, harried, unorganized, confused, stressed out. I promised myself I wouldn’t become that.
So… let’s forward 5 years and three kids later. In the last few months, I – who swore I would never let that happen to me – found myself on sick leave from work, battling anxiety, depression and complete and utter life overwhelm, despite my best efforts to get clear on my priorities, maintain boundaries and keep infusing my life with practices like meditation, nature immersion and crafts.
Once again I took to google. Most of the internet results on parental anxiety talk about fear-based anxiety and the fact that we live in a culture that is dominated by fear. In the book Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, the author states “Fear is the most potent fore that prevents parents from allowing their children the freedom that they themselves enjoyed when they were young.” There is “Fear of traffic, of crime, of stranger danger, of nature itself.”
I wanted to write this post today for parents who are struggling with anxiety, but feel like their anxiety isn’t rooted in this type of fear.
Yes, this type is widespread but I’ve come to the conclusion that there are different drivers of anxiety as a parent that don’t get mentioned as often.
Yes, I did struggle with a bit of fear-based anxiety with my first born (I couldn’t even walk the stroller down hills without fear of falling, letting go of the stroller, and it rolling down the hill.)
But… fast forward to the third born and the anxiety was more insidious and harder to pinpoint. I’ve spent the last two months exploring my anxiety and here’s a few pieces of my own anxiety puzzle I’d like to share mostly to let you know
a.) you’re not alone in realizing anxiety is really complicated and not a one-size fits all solution and
b.) you can begin to tackle it as you unpeel the layers (with knowledge.)
What is contributing to this horrible sense of overwhelm, foreboding, a jacked up nervous system and fragmented sleep?
I believe the speed at which we operate, the lack of depth that we experience, and the move away from in-person interaction (feelings of isolation) are very, very important pieces of the multi-layered beast that is anxiety.
Today, let’s jump into the first theme, speed at which we operate (and the expansion of… well, all the things.)
The Speed at Which we Operate and the Expansion of All The Things
We have become accustomed to high speed and rapid gratification.
Let’s start with TV. It seems ridiculous now to wait for a show to screen at a certain time on a certain day, for us to record and watch later. We can access it on demand with Netflix. We don’t have to phone someone up, trek to the library, or remain clueless, we can google anything and get the answer on the spot.
It applies to our own life and goals too, we catch ourselves in gratification conditioning. For example, we set up an Instagram account for our side business, or buy a book then we find ourselves wanting a successful launch with 500 followers, or an instant change in our life once we’ve finished reading a book.
We’ve become accustomed to things happening quickly because the internet speeds up our sense of time. Unfortunately, REAL life still hasn’t caught up to the speed of INTERNET life, but because we spend a good portion of our day in the latter, we’ve simply become used to it.
You can’t will a house plant to grow instantly once you plant it… yet we catch ourselves taking on that mindset with so many pieces of our lives, right?
I noticed myself doing this with my childrens’ sleep regressions, especially my little dragon of a first born. As the sleep struggles began, I began reading sleep training guides, implemented their step by step process and as disappointed that my child’s circadian rhythm, brain and sleep cycles didn’t adjust within a few days. Fast forward to the toddler years, after a few podcasts on discipline (which I confess I fast forwarded through to get to the main points) I implemented the advice, thinking my toddler would be a different boy in the next few days. Nope.
Everything is at a faster pace. You’re registering children for things 6 months in advance, your child’s teacher can instant message you instead of waiting for parent teacher interviews, people can make requests of you instantly via text message or email instead of waiting to see you. Shorter response windows and more requests because of increased mediums of communication. That entire outside world can access you via several different platforms now, and if you try to hide (think social media detox or simply focusing on your family instead of community and social obligations) you’ll receive concerned messages from people asking if you are ok?
Instead of one paper calendar you can now manage 4 different ones on your ICal for different domains of your life, which then can auto populate the other calendars. Because you can do more in shorter amounts of time, you are… doing… more.
Think about the rate at which you scroll through Instagram. People used to read papers, one page at a time, just one or two images at a time. Visual stimulation increased with magazines of course and more photos in a magazine than a newspaper, but we were still limited by reading speed.
Now, in the digital age, we are only limited by scrolling speed. I googled how many images we see on Instagram in one session of scrolling, and I couldn’t find an answer, but I’m sure it is exponentially more than magazine images. That’s a lot of visual processing and stimulation for our brains. Next time you scroll through Instagram, try and observe how fast you scroll, do you stay at fast surface level scrolling, or do you intentionally stop and read each post before moving to the next.
Do you ever catch yourself writing with a pen, filling out a form, and thinking it’s SO SLOW and rushing to write faster? You’re used to being able to write at least 120 WPM on a keyboard in 2018. Handwriting? 13 WPM.
We are also multi-tasking more than ever before.
Podcast + Cleaning or Driving.
Working out + Texting or Catching up with People
Project and Role Expansion at Work
Making Dinner + Sending an Email.
Playing with kids + thinking about launching a side business
Waiting for the elevator + checking facebook
When is the last time you were waiting for something (elevator is a great example) and left your phone in your pocket and just stared at the wall? Try – it is actually hard because of what we have become accustomed to.
Finally, another fascinating aspect of all of this, is that we have more access to information than any previous generation. My grandmother would find a recipe by calling up and asking a friend, or going to a library. Me? Well, I can google it, save it to my pinterest boards, peruse 6 different recipes depending on my dietary preferences of the week (gluten free? Low starch? Dairy free?) or according to what groceries I have on hand, and then I can download several free guides to save for later to improve my techniques in preparing said recipes.
In the parenting world, this gets insane because we begin the parenting journey knowing NOTHING and having to learn EVERYTHING, but the problem is we don’t have a few trusted sources anymore, there’s a bajillion different sources from which we can get a Ph.D level of information, and we haven’t (yet) learnt to understand when to shift from acquiring information to acting on said information. It’s like trying to decide when a painting is actually complete. When is the appropriate time to act on the information we’ve gathered? (I can tell you my answer, it’s… keep googling and acquiring more information until finally I decide I’m being ridiculous and finally act on it.)
Research estimates that we have access to 15,000 times more information than our grandparents’ generation. That’s a lot!
As I began to realize all of these things over the last month or two, I’ve begun to very consciously work at slowing my brain down. Like the slow food movement, there’s now a slow living movement. It is not easy, let me tell you that. I try to scroll slower through Instagram. I reduced my social media feeds to only those people who inspire me or whose feeds relate to my current priorities. I ruthlessly chopped down my goals and to-do lists and resist the urge to pick up new projects. I try to be present with the kids, and to be in nature without feeling like I need to listen to a podcast. I try to cognitively deload and not learn anything. I’ve been trying to not pick up my phone while I wait for something, and simply retrain my brain to be comfortable with boredom or lack of stimulation. I’ve tried not to rush my kids into the car, or walk fast.
It’s hard, but after two months I’ve noticed a gradual slowing down of my thoughts and less racing around in the physical aspect. And you know what’s hard? When you depart from normal things, people notice, and question it. My husband still pushes me to hurry with doing things, my phone still buzzes with so many texts I can’t get to in the few minutes I am kid free, and I still catch myself speed walking with the grocery cart and not perusing the shelves at a relaxed pace. I still feel guilty if I haven’t crossed off to-dos and I have slight existential crises when I realize I have nothing scheduled in a day. I feel panicky if I have no ideas for what to do with my kids from 9am to 12pm and catch myself thinking that I need to do something. When was the last time you asked yourself “when can I purposefully make my children bored or avoid giving them stimulating activities and force them to come up with their own entertainment.” A client and I discussed this very thing the other day.
All things to think about, that I have certainly thought about the last few months. Agree? Disagree? Which pieces of this land with you? I would love to hear what your challenges are and how you’ve tackled this (and begun to slow down, and bring anxiety levels down.)
Next up, we’ll talk about shallow living (especially in parenthood) and the feelings of isolation that arise (even if we see people on the regular.) Two other drives of that insidious thing called Anxiety.