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Mental Wellness When Sending Your Kids Into a Scary World

A new reality with new anxieties. Here's how to manage as a parent in 2022.

Key points

  • With the ongoing pandemic, talk of a recession, school violence, and more, being a parent in 2022 is challenging.
  • A total of 66 percent of parents meet the criteria for parental burnout, with one of the top concerns being their child's mental health.
  • If parents are stressed and anxious, it’s likely that their child will pick up on those emotions and experience them as well.
 Courtesy of LifeStance Health
Source: Courtesy of LifeStance Health

Mass shootings across the country. An ongoing pandemic. Monkeypox. War. Drowning accidents. The raging narcotics epidemic. There are so many reasons right now to feel downright panicky as a parent, whether you have an infant or an 18-year-old. As parents send their kids back to school in the fall, and every day thereafter, it’s easy to see why they may experience higher-than-ever levels of anxiety, on a collective and global scale. When I worked with patients in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, and then again in the 2008 recession, anxiety was high—but as additional trauma creates a compounding effect, we are living through one of the most acute mental health crises yet.

In March 2022, the World Health Organization reported that the pandemic contributed to a 25 percent increase in anxiety and depression worldwide, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states that around 31 percent of people will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their life. An Ohio State University study recently reported that 66 percent of parents meet the criteria for parental burnout, with one of the factors being concern about their children’s mental health as well.

A 2019 American Psychological Association report even showed that one in three people are avoiding certain public settings due to anxiety stemming from recent school shootings. With all of the evidence pointing to surging rates of parental anxiety, it’s essential to encourage an open dialogue and find opportunities to help yourself, and those who love you, move toward a calmer and happier state. Here’s how to better understand the challenges we’re facing and some steps to take to encourage overall well-being.

Recognizing the Ongoing Fallout of the Pandemic

While we try to safely adapt and cope despite the ongoing pandemic, many of us continue to experience a heightened sense of danger and feel constantly on edge. In some people, this manifests as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and may require treatment from a mental health practitioner. This may especially be the case for those who’ve lost a loved one or experienced intense stress as a frontline health care worker. Others might simply feel more attuned to how quickly our world can be flipped upside down, as it was in March 2020. The heightened sense of danger might explain why reports of monkeypox send stress levels soaring or why symptoms of a cold may trigger fear and panic.

Acknowledging the Role of Financial Stressors

Money has long been a stressor linked to anxiety and has commonly stood out as one of the most difficult areas of a relationship to navigate, too. Talk of an upcoming recession may resurface past anxieties from financial insecurity during the pandemic.

Underlying financial stress can infiltrate every decision and emotion you experience. Parents, in particular, may experience a primitive reaction, similar to a fight-or-flight response, if they feel that their ability to provide basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter for their families is in jeopardy. This instinctual response reflects the body response that occurs in panic attacks and can have a serious impact on someone’s mental well-being.

 Courtesy of LifeStance Health
Source: Courtesy of LifeStance Health

Signs a Child Is Struggling With Anxiety

Children are highly susceptible to the emotions of their parents. If parents are stressed and anxious, especially about topics relating to their child, it’s likely that their child will pick up on those emotions and experience them as well. Learning to recognize the signs of anxiety and depression in children is essential to effectively support them. Here’s what to look for:

  • Refusal to go to school
  • Frequent physical complaints, such as a stomachache or headache
  • Overly clinging to parents
  • Tantrums or panic when separated from parents
  • Changes in sleep patterns/night terrors

Next Steps Toward Feeling Better

Practice self-care. By now you’ve probably heard “self-care” strategies repeated ad nauseum, especially for parents. While some of them aren’t realistic all of the time, especially with young kids, finding what works for you is essential to support your overall mental and physical health. For example, even a small tweak like keeping to a regular schedule (e.g., going to bed and waking up at the same time every day), and avoiding screens for a period of time before you head to bed can be effective. Each person’s personal list of go-to self-care activities can and will look different, but the main priority is finding simple, easy ways to quiet the noise and chaos of everyday life.

Source: Courtesy of LifeStance Health
Source: Courtesy of LifeStance Health

Lean on a trusted friend or family member. If you haven’t verbally acknowledged that you are feeling too anxious to put your children on the bus in light of recent tragedies or that you spend time obsessing about whether they might get COVID-19, open up to a trusted friend. Consider chatting with someone over coffee or a walk who will listen and validate without judgment—they don’t even have to solve anything, just to lend an ear. Humans crave validation that others might be sharing their feelings to calibrate their levels of anxiety and simply to feel less alone.

It’s also incredibly important to normalize that, as parents, we all need a break from time to time. If you don’t have a parent or family member nearby, don’t be shy about reaching out to a close friend or your child’s friend’s parents and asking if they would be open to watching your child, and offering to do the same for them when they need it.

Take some comfort in the statistics. While war, violence, and disease are probably the things keeping most parents up at night, the statistics show a much different picture when it comes to the likelihood of something devastating happening to your family. Some people take great comfort in the research and statistics, understanding that it’s highly unlikely to happen to them. Though every child's illness and death warrant our attention, empathy, and action, to get through the day, we might have to focus on how unlikely an event might be even if it feels likely lately.

For example, while gun violence is a leading cause of death for children, it’s highly unlikely that a school shooting will be the cause, and much more likely that children will access a firearm unsecured in their homes, something you do often have control over preventing now. It can help parents to focus on what they can control, such as monitoring media coverage and talking about their feelings together.

Reach out for professional help. Therapists are specifically trained in techniques and strategies to help you move toward a calmer and more positive state, where you don’t dread your children getting onto the bus and heading into the world. It’s possible to enjoy a kid’s football game without spending the whole time worrying about injuries and looking forward to the school year with hope and optimism that your child will be safe, and even thrive. If you even remotely suspect that you might benefit from seeking professional help, schedule an appointment today.


Brunier, A., (March 2022). COVID-19 pandemic triggers 25% increase in prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide. World Health Organization.…

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (December 2018). Anxiety at a Glance.

The Ohio State University. (May 2022). Examining the Epidemic of Working Parental Burnout and Strategies to Help.…

LifeStance Health. (March 2022). Survey Finds That Majority of Parents Have Seen Their Children Face Significant Mental and Emotional Challenges During The Covid-19 Pandemic.

Abrams, Z., (September 2022). Stress of mass shootings causing cascade of collective traumas. American Psychological Association.…

The White House. (July 2022). How Do Economists Determine Whether the Economy Is in a Recession?…

The New England Journal of Medicine. (May 2022). Current Causes of Death in Children and Adolescents in the United States.

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