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Amy Przeworski Ph.D.


Mother's Anxiety

How motherhood breeds anxiety

I thought I knew what high anxiety was before I became a mother, but upon learning that I was pregnant, I realized that anxiety could reach all-new levels. Suddenly, I was responsible for my life and the life of another person — a person I was growing! That led to a million new "What ifs." Each doctor's appointment brought even more as we completed tests for every possible complication. I thought that if I made it through the pregnancy, my worries would decrease, because then the sole responsibility for the child would not lie with me — I could blame my husband for anything that went wrong. But then it became worries about SIDS, growth charts, developmental milestones, whether I was a good enough mother, tummy time, rashes, reflux, hand-foot-and-mouth disease, and survival of parenthood. As my daughter has grown, I've realized that there are many more worries to come, and that with each stage in my child's life, my worries will change and grow.

So how do we tame these worries and just enjoy motherhood? Here are some tips to try:

1. Don't show that you care through worrying. Many worriers think that worrying is a way of showing love and caring: "If I worry about you, it means that I care about you and what happens to you." But if you are on the receiving end of listening to someone's worries about you, it becomes difficult to see worries as being signs of caring. Instead, it becomes your job to take care of the worrier — to calm and reassure them. So worrying is NOT a way of showing that you care. Instead, show that you care through doing caring things — planning a little surprise, making a special meal, playing a game, saying "I love you," or spending special time together.

2. Remind yourself of the reason why you wanted to become a mother and the meaning of being a mother. Rather than losing yourself (and your mothering experience) in a slew of worries and concern that something awful will happen to your child, lose yourself in the wonderful moments of motherhood — being proud of your child's accomplishment, tucking your child in, or sharing a laugh.

3. Accept your worries. Sometimes, I start to worry about something and find myself unable to stop. When my daughter was a baby, I would lie awake worrying that she would stop breathing at some point in the night. No matter how many times I checked on her, I couldn't quiet this worry. Eventually I realized that I had to accept the worry for what it was — just a worry. It didn't indicate that it would happen. Worrying wasn't going to prevent this from happening. I had to accept that I had done all that I could to prevent this from happening, and now it was out of my hands. Once I accepted that (and the presence of the worry), I was a bit better able to let it go.

4. Remind yourself that your worries rarely come true. If you are a worrier, you may have noticed that the things you worry about usually do not come to fruition. Most times, if something awful happens, it's something that we hadn't considered or worried about. And often if your worry does happen, it isn't as bad as you thought it would be. Instead of worrying about what will happen, accept that there are some things you can control, and some you can't. Although you can prevent some things from happening, there is no way to anticipate every possible thing that could go wrong. So prevent the things that you can through being a careful parent, and accept that bad things are going to happen sometimes, regardless of whether you worry.

5. Surround yourself with good service providers, and let them do the worrying. We absolutely love our pediatrician and our daycare providers. We could not trust them more. They are knowledgeable, caring, cautious, and wonderful with my kid. They treat my child like they would their own, and because of that, I have less to worry about. If you do not feel like you can trust your child's service providers 100 percent, find new providers whom you can trust.

6. Have other things in your life besides being a mother (friends, hobbies, etc). It is easy to become lost in worries and threats if you have little time away from being a mom. If you are able to take some time away from motherhood, it often gives you perspective. Having a support system of other women to talk to can also help you realize that whatever you and your child are going through is normal. There is nothing like validation and hearing that others made it through the challenges that you are experiencing to reduce your worries.

7. Turn your lemons into lemonade. When I am really stressed, I use the nervous energy to accomplish things. Sometimes I clean the house. Other times I work on work projects. Sometimes I work out, and sometimes I use the energy for hobbies. Directing your nervous energy into something productive can get your mind off of your worries. It can also help you to accomplish something tangible.

8. Work out. Exercise is a natural stress reducer. It's also a way to engage in self-care. When you are relaxed and refreshed, you will worry less and be able to be the best mom you can be!

9. Know that most moms worry from time to time. Almost every mother I have talked to has said that she worries about her children. If your worries are interfering in your life or are uncontrollable, it might be time to seek help.

10. Let your child make mistakes. We often try to protect our kids from every potential threat. But in doing so, we don't allow our children to make mistakes and to have to cope with challenges. Instead, allow your child to make mistakes so you can both learn that your child can cope with the challenges of life. This will help your child (and you) to face challenges in the future.


About the Author

Amy Przeworski, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University and specializes in anxiety disorders in children, adolescents, and adults.