So my daughter's immune system is getting stronger. The Petri dish that I send her to every school day has really put her through the ringer, but I have noticed that she is going for longer stretches of wellness between her immune boosting bouts of illness. As we spent the weekend hunkered down dealing with a fever and congestion, I reflected on Anxiety and Illness.
When I was a new mother, every sniffle or cough or sneeze had my full attention. Anxiety was quick to tell me what a bad mother I was if I didn't immediately address my daugher's symptoms. I've come a long way from that and it has been one step at a time. I had to embrace the inevitability of illness and also recognize that with each round I gained more knowledge, noticed more patterns, and gained the ever important feeling of competence in being a mother.
Now I'm going to let you in on a few things. First I had to walk my talk as far as dealing with my Anxiety. It still, no matter how much work I have done, will do it's best to get my panties in a wad over the littlest thing. It wants me to worry about her health. Am I feeding her the "right" foods? Am I helping her get enough sleep? Is she stressed out? Am I stressed out? The list seems endless at times. Every day I have to deal with these questions and with what life puts in my path. Every day I have to move toward these questions that may scare me. I have to discern between Anxiety's actual signals (hey she feels hot, take her temperature) and the noise that it loves to generate (what happens if her temperature goes above 102? What if she won't eat or drink? What if? What if? What if?).
Second, accepting stress, illness, and the unexpected has been one of the most important steps in this Anxious Mother/Anxious Daughter Dance. Competence is one of the keys to this part. I have, at times, had to conciously choose to not ask for reassurance from others. You heard that right. I made a choice to position myself as the "expert" in my daughter's health. Now, I certainly consult with other experts like our doctor and other resources specific to children's health, but I do not rely on them solely. The only way for me to gain competence in being a mom is to rely on myself first, before I "check" with anyone else. This was super hard in the beginning, as I felt like I had no idea what I was doing and wanted someone else to bear the burden of responsibility. It has been my commitment to doing this work, though, that has allowed me to fully experience my anxiety and to get past the noise to actually build competence and confidence in being a parent! Do I get it "right" everyday? Of course not. I just accept that there is no absolute right or wrong and that as long as I show up and do my best, that's all that I can ask of myself.
So how do we generalize this concept to dealing with an Anxious Kid? The same two "rules" apply. We first accept that our child tends toward being anxious with all of the interesting and frustrating and scary "symptoms" that come along on this journey. Then we set a goal for ourselves to become the "expert" in our parenting of our Anxious Child. With this goal we commit to being our child's first and foremost expert and view the other "experts" as resources to consult. We take responsibility and are compassionate with ourselves during the lifelong learning process!
We also commit to dealing with our own anxiety around parenting an anxious child and that means distinguishing signals vs. noise. We teach and model this to our Anxious Kids. We are willing to give them the "medicine" that they need, which may include putting them in uncomfortable situations where they have to work on their own competence building skills.
Here are today's Parenting Takeaways:
What do you find yourself worrying about?
Your financial situation?
What your neighbors think?
What your friends think?
What you mother thinks?
What might happen if...?
Yeah, I could fill the page with things that we worry about, right?
Seems like no matter how well our lives are rolling along, we can come up with something or someone to worry about!
So what does that tell us about worry? Maybe that it is actually a habit? Somewhere along the line we were "overly concerned" about something and were maybe "rewarded" when "nothing bad" happened, so our subconcious concluded that "If we worry then nothing bad will happen"!
Really? That's some magical thinking right there AND it's what all of us worriers have experienced at some point in our lives and then the habit got stuck. We worry, nothing bad happens, we relax (until the next thing to worry about shows it's face!).
Do you know how long it actually takes for a habit to take hold? Research shows that it can happen in as few as 18 days or take as long as 245 days. On average, though, it takes about 66 days for a new habit to take hold in your life. Sixty six days of consistency in the new habit for it to be your automatic response to a stimulus. Think about that. It only took about 10 weeks of your entire life for you to develop the worry habit. Let that sink in...
So, the good news is that it will only take about that much time for a new (and improved 😊) habit to take it's place!
So now, let's see...what could that new habit be? Hmmmm 🤔. What about Caring? What would your life look like if you could spend less time Worrying and more time Caring?
OK, so let's take a minute and notice the differneces between Worrying and Caring.
From my experience and vantage point (and remember I have observed a lot of worriers in my day!) Worry is fear based and focused on the negative while Caring is actually love based and focuses on the positive. Let that sink in for a moment.
I know that you worriers will argue, "but worrying about someone shows that I care". OK, I hear you, and I know your Anxiety wants you to believe that worrying is an expression of caring AND I am going to call "Bullshit" on your Anxiety. Remember that Anxiety wants to keep your world small and it definitely does not want you to even consider changing such an ingrained habit as your habit of Worrying!
And yet, consider what your life might look like if you could change Worrying to Caring? Worrying keeps us stuck. Caring allows us to take action. Worrying does not help anyone (yeah, I'm going to go right ahead and call you on the Magical Thinking crap!). Caring is all about helping ourselves, our loved ones, our community, the environment, and ultimately our world.
So are you ready to take some action? Maybe spend the next 66 days or so developing a new habit of Caring to replace that old, worn out habit of Worrying? Here are some tips for getting started on this project:
Be compassionate with yourself. Old habits are like dogs with bones. Take your time AND commit to making this change. It is worth it!
Oh, and keep me posted on your progress in the comments below 😊
The voice behind Auntie Anxiety is Lynn Dutrow, Courage Coach and Counselor