As a parent and family impact coach I often have mums and dads coming to me for support because they’re feeling daily stressed and anxious.
Stressed because it feels like there’s always so much to do and not enough hours in the day. Stressed because they feel they’re not doing a proper job at home as a parent, or at work as an employee. Stressed because they are not getting enough sleep, exercise or healthy food etc.
Anxious about their kid’s behaviour, additional needs, schooling or emotional well-being. Anxious that they are not doing a good enough job as a parent. Or anxious about what other people (friends, teachers, family members etc.) think about them and their parenting. And the list goes on.
While we cannot make more time in the day, and maybe we cannot change the way certain things are in our family, work and private lives; we CAN choose what to do with our time and we CAN choose how we decide to think and talk about the situations we are in.
What happens when we allow negative thoughts and words to take over?
When we say, ‘we are anxious because…’ or, ‘I am so stressed…’ or, ‘I worry about…’’ we have started a negative spiral of thinking that can be difficult to stop.
We then feed our brain (and others) with these negative words till we start living and reacting from them.
We can become even more stressed as we think over and over about the stressor and how hard life is. And even more anxious when we cannot stop ourselves thinking about all of our worries.
This can have an impact on the way we react to the situation: maybe we yell at our kids, say things we regret later, withdraw from the situation or we might get angry or start crying.
The bottom line is that the more we ‘choose’ to say that we feel anxious and stressed and allow the thoughts to take over the more we feed our brain to stay in this state of mind which can often make the situation worse.
How can we stop this negative spiral?
So let’s try to ‘feed our brains’ something else, something a bit more positive.
I was working with a dad who had anxiety due to the demands at work and home; he always felt someone wanted something from him and was feeling overwhelmed. We started by challenging, then changing, his language.
- He was arriving at work anxious so instead of thinking and saying: ‘I’m stressed before I even get into work just by thinking about all the things I have to do!’, he started to say: ‘I’m excited about my work because every day is new and there’s always something interesting to do.’
- And before going home instead of saying: ‘I’m so stressed about going home as I’ll probably have to put up with listening to the kids fighting!’, he would challenge it and say, for instance: ‘I’m really excited to get home and see the kids; yes they fight sometimes but that’s what kids do and I can ignore that!’
He reminded himself that he likes his job and he loves his family and so it felt natural to tell himself and others how excited he is to be part of it.
In the beginning it was hard to change his negative language as it had become a habit. But he taught himself to STOP before he said or did anything, then take a deep breath and rephrase the negative sentence that popped into his mind to a more positive one before he said it out loud.
After a while he became much better at rephrasing his daily life and work thoughts into more positive ones.
What happened when he challenged his negative thinking?
Not only did the people around him (his kids, wife and colleagues) start seeing him as a more positive person but he started to feel less anxious and stressed because his brain was being ‘fed’ with the message that, ‘life is OK, I can do this, I am in charge of my life, I am in a good place’, just by being more in control of his thinking.
Try it for yourself and see if you can make a shift. From now on when a negative thought pops into your mind, i.e., ‘I am so worried about my kids etc.’, STOP and BREATHE and try to add a positive twist to it: ‘I am so happy and grateful for my child, he has so many amazing qualities’, ‘we are a strong family and can deal with it’, ‘no one goes through life stress free and we can get through this’, ‘I am so excited to be part of my kids’ life’, and so on.
And choose to be excited instead of stressed and anxious. We all have a choice about how we choose to think and be in control of self….
Good luck from Mette Theilmann