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Parenting with anxiety: Nurturing resilience through self-care

Parenting with anxiety: Nurturing resilience through self-care

Anxiety is a natural part of life, but when anxiety goes beyond standard stress or fear, it can have a negative impact on life and relationships. Those with untreated anxiety might withdraw from or get irritable with their friends, and anxious parents might model fears and worries to their children. 

However, it’s very possible to be a good parent with anxiety. With the right treatment and coping strategies, parents with anxiety can limit the impact their anxiety has on their children.

Understanding Parental Anxiety: Impact on Parenting

As hard as parenting is, having anxiety can make things even more challenging. First, parenting can cause a natural rise in anxious feelings in most people because they are now entirely responsible for another person’s health and well-being—not only that, but a person who needs help with every part of their existence and has a very limited ability to take action or make smart decisions on their own.

In birthing parents, this general rise in stress is often accompanied by a new emotional and chemical attunement to their child. New parents may also experience anxiety in response to the opinions of others, often feeling judged and monitored by people close to them and strangers alike.

Each of these new sources of anxiety can compound existing anxiety, aggravating it and worsening symptoms.

Because additional anxiety can also be expected as a parent, it can be difficult to realize what levels of anxiety are “normal” and when they might exceed what other parents deal with. This can make it difficult for new parents to manage their anxiety and seek help, as they may just assume that their intense anxiety is a normal part of parenting.

How Can I Be a Good Mom With Anxiety?

Anxiety can often lead people to feel they aren’t doing things well or that they aren’t doing them right. However, if you are doing the work to inform and better yourself, then it’s likely you are already a good parent.

It’s important to ask the right questions, solve problems for yourself, and be mindful of your emotions and how they impact your kids. However, it’s alright to seek support from others in parenting, too. Get help by leaning on your partner, friends, and trusted family members, letting them take on tasks, be emotional resources, or provide helpful feedback for you.

With anxiety, it’s important—for both you and your family—for you to find good ways to regulate yourself. Coping skills like breathing exercises and grounding techniques can be helpful, but that may not be enough if you’re experiencing severe symptoms. Medication can be an excellent option, though you will need to speak with a mental health professional to discuss symptoms and find the right treatment.

What Is Depleted Mother Syndrome?

Depleted mother syndrome, also known as parental burnout, is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by overexerting oneself as a parent. Though society might say otherwise, parents are not meant to give everything to their children at all times with no thought for themselves. 

To effectively care for others, parents need to replenish with self-care and tend to their own needs. We can’t pour into others from an empty cup. 

How Does Having a Parent With Anxiety Affect a Child?

A parent’s anxiety can have an impact on a child, but the strength of this impact depends on how well the parent regulates themself and how well their anxiety is treated. It’s also dependent on how the parent’s anxiety presents itself—social anxiety, changeable moods, anxiety around the safety of the child, etc.

If a parent does not manage their anxiety well and does not receive treatment, their anxiety can negatively impact their child. The symptoms might cause the parent to be overprotective of their child or pass along their own anxiety-driven fears

Children learn systems and ways of being from their parents, which means that anxiety can develop due to environmental as well as genetic factors. However, there’s no true way to predict whether a child will adopt those traits or not. Kids with anxious parents can learn to be shy or hesitant like their parents, or they might even “rebel” against how their parents act and reject the system of anxiety.

Research shows a likely genetic component to anxiety, meaning children of parents with anxiety may be more likely to develop anxiety themselves. However, suppose one’s child inherits their parent’s anxiety. In that case, they might be able to get diagnosed earlier in life, as their parent could see the signs more clearly than those without anxiety.

How Can I Help My Anxious Parent?

The amount of help you can or should provide to your parent depends on your age. For young people and young adults, emotionally supporting your parent is not your responsibility. One of the most helpful things you can do is seek help for yourself and let your parents take care of themselves. If they seem very dysregulated or like they are having trouble managing their symptoms, perhaps mention that they seem stressed and suggest that they take some time for themselves and get some support. 

As for adult children, consider talking to your parent about their anxiety and see how they feel about their situation. You can also share resources and recommend services like therapy to help with their symptoms.

If their anxiety is impacting the family dynamic, family therapy can be helpful in solving any problems, improving lines of communication, and establishing healthy forms of support for each person.

Self-Care Tips for Parents Managing Anxiety

Self-care is incredibly important for anyone managing anxiety, but especially parents. It gives time to recenter, regulate emotions, and refill the energy needed to physically and emotionally care for others.

Some good ways for parents with anxiety to care for themselves include:

  • Non-negotiable alone/quiet time: This can be anything from taking a moment alone in a quiet room to an evening out of the house without the kids. No chores—this is time to rest and recharge. It also needs to be regular and uninterrupted. This time is important, so make sure to draw a boundary with whomever you need to that this time is necessary and needs to be respected.
  • Take care of anxiety sensitivities: If your anxiety makes you sensitive to lights or sounds, make sure to have hearing protectors, sunglasses, or anything else that might help you stay regulated, whether inside or outside.
  • Breathing exercises: Have the kids watch TV for an hour or so and do some intentional breathing exercises, such as box breathing, 4-7-8 breathing, and other deep breathing exercises.
  • Sleep boundaries: If you need more time for yourself during the day, try setting an early bedtime for your child. This will give you additional time for yourself at the end of the day to recharge. This doesn’t mean they have to go to sleep at this time, just be in their bed and stay in their room until they go to sleep. Make sure that there’s no bedtime creep either (whether you set an earlier bedtime or not)—kids need to stay in their rooms once they’re sent to bed so that you get true rest time. 
  • Feed yourself: Be intentional about eating regularly and feeding yourself complex carbs that will stay with you throughout the day.
  • Guardian handoffs: If you find yourself getting burnt out, work out an agreement with your spouse or co-parent (if possible) where you can hand the kids off and take a moment for yourself to switch off, re-energize, and regulate yourself.

These systems and boundaries can be hard to maintain at first, but consistency is key. Give the new habits a few weeks of regular practice and see if they feel helpful and manageable. If you can, consider seeing a mental health professional about your symptoms. They can give you individualized tools and tactics to help manage your specific symptoms.

At the end of the day, anxiety and parenting are difficult to manage side by side. Know this—by reading this and doing your research, you are paying attention to your needs and the needs of your children, which means you are doing a good job. Your best is all you can do, so find ways to support yourself and get the help you need so you can be the best parent you can be.

  • Medical writer
  • Editorial writer
  • Clinical reviewer
  • Update history
Kate Hanselman, PMHNP in New Haven, CT
Kate Hanselman, PMHNP-BCBoard-Certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
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Kate Hanselman is a board-certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP-BC). She specializes in family conflict, transgender issues, grief, sexual orientation issues, trauma, PTSD, anxiety, behavioral issues, and women’s issues.

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Alexandra “Alex” Cromer is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) who has 4 years of experience partnering with adults, families, adolescents, and couples seeking help with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and trauma-related disorders.

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Hannah DeWittMental Health Writer

Hannah is a Junior Copywriter at Thriveworks. She received her bachelor’s degree in English: Creative Writing with a minor in Spanish from Seattle Pacific University. Previously, Hannah has worked in copywriting positions in the car insurance and trucking sectors doing blog-style and journalistic writing and editing.

We update our content on a regular basis to ensure it reflects the most up-to-date, relevant, and valuable information. When we make a significant change, we summarize the updates and list the date on which they occurred. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  • Originally published on August 4, 2021

    Author: Wistar Murray

  • Updated on May 29, 2024

    Authors: Hannah DeWitt; Kate Hanselman, PMHNP-BC

    Reviewer: Alexandra Cromer, LPC

    Changes: Updated by a Thriveworks clinician in collaboration with our editorial team, adding information regarding the impact of anxiety on parenting, its potential impact on children of anxious parents, how to be a good parent with anxiety, what depleted mother syndrome is, and self-care tips for parents with anxiety; article was clinically reviewed to double confirm accuracy and enhance value.

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