parent's anxiety

What's Behind All That Busy-ness?

Being an anxiety therapist and having experienced anxiety myself, I understand how anxiety can run your life, even when you think you have it under control. That’s because anxiety shows up in ways that aren’t always obvious. One of the symptoms of being anxious that isn’t always recognized is busyness, or always “doing.” If you have a hard time sitting still and feel compelled to multi-task constantly, you might be using busyness as a way to manage your anxiety.

Keeping Anxiety At Bay Through Busyness

Are you keeping anxiety at bay through busyness?

Are you keeping anxiety at bay through busyness?

Many of my clients tell me that they find it hard to sit still. For some, being still creates anxiety because their inner critic jumps in and reminds them of all the things they should be doing. For others, their “always-on” mind makes it hard to sit quietly or enjoy reading and other quiet activities. Always being busy becomes a way to manage anxiety, because it doesn’t give you time to sit and think.

I remember times when my husband would say to me, “Can you just sit down?” Or, “Why are you always doing 10 things at once?” Being busy made me feel like I had things under control and helped distract me from the anxious, uncomfortable feelings that would creep in the moment I was still.

But the anxiety doesn’t go away when we’re busy. It often pops in to make a guest appearance just when you think you have it under control. Maybe it shows up when you’re trying to fall asleep or stay asleep, or when things feel beyond your control or they don’t go as planned.

So, if we’re “managing” our anxiety by being busy, why does it still come back? Well, when we constantly work to avoid feeling anxious, we’re actually making ourselves more anxious. Instead of relieving the anxiety, we’re actually creating a pattern of behaviors that keeps anxiety hanging around.

Always “Doing” Only Makes You More Anxious

Our bodies react to things that make us feel afraid. Anxiety and stress are fear responses. If we try to avoid the stress through busyness instead of learning to calm ourselves in moments of stress, our bodies still sense the stress and react accordingly. In fact, if our body doesn’t have a chance to chill, to de-stress, it will have a harder time managing when the next stressful event comes along. 

It’s like a chain reaction: You feel anxiety when you’re still, or quiet, so that prompts you to get busy. The busyness pushes the anxiety to the background, but it still exists below the surface, not being attended to. Then something small happens. Maybe you stub your toe, or drop a glass, or make a mistake at work. Now the anxiety jumps from the background into the present moment.

Now your reaction comes from a place of extreme anxiety, because you were already anxious to begin with. You might react in a way that doesn’t fit the intensity of the event.  Maybe you scream at the pain or yell at those who ask if you’re OK when you hurt yourself. Maybe you berate yourself for dropping the glass and start to cry. Maybe you have an anxiety attack because you feel so overwhelmed at work. Now you worry that the next time something happens, you’ll react in the same way . That thought keeps the anxiety bubbling below the surface.

Getting Comfortable With Being And Not Doing

Can I allow that I'm anxious in this moment?

Can I allow that I'm anxious in this moment?

I know that it’s really hard to change old patterns of behavior, but that’s what I’m asking you to do. When you find that you’re creating busyness for yourself, I want you to pause and pay mindful attention to what’s happening. Try sitting still (without your phone) and ask yourself  “Can I allow that I’m anxious in this moment and sit with it for just a minute?” 

Check out where you feel the anxiety, with a curious attention. Maybe your chest is tight or you have a stomachache. Say out loud, “The stress and anxiety feel like a hot poker in my chest, or a ball of hard clay in my stomach or  _______” (you fill in the blank). You might feel a little weird saying this out loud. It might make you smile or laugh at yourself, and that’s OK!

Next, try breathing into the stress and anxiety with slow, deep, measured breaths. You can slowly breathe in for a count of 4, hold for 4, breathe out for 4, hold for 4 and repeat. Then ask yourself how you’re feeling.

Lastly, I want you to be patient. Chances are, you’ve reacted and responded to anxiety and stress the same way for long time. It’s a well-worn path of behavior and neurological responses, and it will take time to change them. By practicing doing things differently, in a consistent way, you’ll begin to notice that you can manage your anxiety more effectively both physically and emotionally.

Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979. 

Photos by  Andrew Neel  & Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Parenting Through Anxiety: Supporting an Anxious Child While Managing Your Own Anxiety

This week I have the pleasure of sharing a guest post by Sarah Leitschuh, MA, LMFT. Sarah is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and owner of Sarah Leitschuh Counseling, PLLC. She provides therapy services, groups, educational workshops and supervision services in Eagan, MN. Sarah works with parents who are overwhelmed and burnt out, as they figure out how to care for their children, nurture their relationship with their partner and attend to their own well-being. Prior to opening her own practice Sarah worked at a non-profit agency where the primary focus of her work was providing therapy for children who had experienced abuse.

Have you ever felt like your anxiety has gotten in the way of parenting the way you would like?  You are not alone.   As parents, the experience of our own anxiety and parenting can be a tricky combination; this is especially true when our child also experiences anxiety.  It is not uncommon for parents and children to feel like they trigger each others' anxiety.   Yes, it can be challenging to support our children when they are anxious and manage our own anxiety at the same time.  But, it can be done.  Below you will find five tips that you may find helpful to consider when you find that anxiety is at play for you and your child.

1.   Be mindful of which emotions you are experiencing and which emotions your child is experiencing.  

It is important to remember that our children's emotions don't always match our own.   Being clear on who is anxious is an important part of determining how to respond to the anxiety.    Is your child anxious?   Are you anxious?   Are you both anxious?  

2.   Utilize calming strategies. 

Calming strategies ease anxious kids

Often times, anxiety can be so intense for children that it is difficult for them to share much information about their anxiety with us.    By walking your children through some calming strategies, you may help them alleviate some of the immediate intensity of their anxiety while also getting the benefit of the use of these calming strategies yourself.

3.   Assess and process the situation causing anxiety and support your child in deciding how to move forward.  

I specifically encourage parents to be purposeful in taking a supportive role instead of taking on responsibility to resolve their child's anxiety because we want to empower our children to develop the skills needed to cope with the anxiety they experience.    In the long run, helping our children feel confident in their ability to respond to anxiety-provoking situations helps them successfully interact with the world as they get older while also taking some pressure off of us to always have the answer for them (thus reducing a parent's anxiety).

4.   Don't hesitate to ask for outside support for yourself and your child. 

If you feel so intensely anxious that it is hard to support your child through an anxiety provoking situation, it is ok to ask others to help you do so.    I also encourage parents to have a strong support system of family, friends, other parents, and even professionals that they can talk to about the situations that make them anxious, so that their own anxiety doesn't spill into interactions with their child.

5.   Try to consider your anxiety as an opportunity to connect with your child.  

Connecting with your child eases your anxiety

In my work with children and teenagers who experience anxiety, one of the things that they tell me they find to be most difficult is the belief that no one understands their experience of anxiety.    As a parent who experiences anxiety, you may have a unique opportunity to connect with your child through the shared experience of anxiety.  Sharing your understanding of anxiety and how you’ve worked through it may help your child feel more understood and less alone. I encourage you to consider how to share this type of information in a way that is helpful to your children without minimizing their experience or burdening them with your worries.

I hope that you find these tips helpful in figuring out the way to best support your anxious child, while also taking care of any of your own anxiety that may pop up.  Please feel free to leave a comment sharing other tips that you’ve found helpful for your family.

You check out Sarah's website or follow her on Twitter, Facebook,

Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.