Parental Anxiety: Recognising the Signs and Getting Help

By: Dr Nithya Nahappan

Raffles Hotel Arcade
Posted on: 30 May 2024

What is Parental Anxiety?

Most parents will worry about their children to some extent – it goes with the territory of being a parent and continues even as children grow up.

Parental Anxiety however, is associated with excessive worrying in relation to their child’s wellbeing, or living with overwhelming fears that something might go wrong with their child or family.

What are the common signs and symptoms?

Every parent-child relationship is unique, however some parents with Parental Anxiety may:

• Experience persistent thoughts that something bad could happen or be happening to their child
• Avoid putting their child in relatively safe situations
• Vocalise feelings and thoughts of worry about their child (sometimes to their child)

Who is likely to be affected by Parental Anxiety?

Parental anxiety can affect anyone and is usually a result of an interplay of genetic, psychological and environmental factors. It can sometimes be triggered by stressors such as sleep deprivation, coping with life changes, hormonal changes and balancing work and home life.

There is also an abundance of information that we now know about children, their wellness and psychological development. This can certainly be valuable; however, it also gives all parents a lot more to think of and worry about as they wade through a vast sea of ‘parenting tips’ and information.

People who suffer or have previously suffered with anxiety disorders, those with low self-esteem, and those who have experienced traumas in their own childhood are more likely to suffer with Parental Anxiety.

Importantly, parents who have experienced medical challenges or depression during the pre-natal, delivery or postnatal periods are also more likely to face parental anxiety.

How can parental anxiety affect children and why is it important to try to manage it?

Parental anxiety can feel stifling for the parent suffering with it, their spouse and for their children.

Children of anxious parents are more likely to develop anxiety disorders in their childhood or adult lives than those of non-anxious parents. This is partly genetic, but also from exposure to parental behaviours resulting from their own anxiety.

How can you manage parental anxiety?

I would recommend trying to uncover the root cause of one’s anxiety. Sometimes, there may be other sources such as anxiety at work, marital strain, or generalised anxiety which is driving the focus or deflecting anxiety towards the child rather than focusing on the underlying problem.

Additionally, if you experienced trauma or challenges around your pregnancy or delivery, it may be worth exploring and healing these in greater depth with the support of a healthcare professional.

Developing the right ways to cope and learning techniques and strategies for managing anxiety would definitely be beneficial.

When should you seek external support?

External support can be sought at any stage of your journey in parenthood, whether you consider yourself to be anxious about particular events (like specific worries around the health of your child) or whether you think you might have Parental Anxiety.

An important role of the Family Doctor or Paediatrician is to support parents who are acutely worried about their children, even if the child turns out to be well. This support is especially meaningful in the early years, as the doctor supports parents in feeling reassured, empowered and more confident around the health and development of their child – in itself a way of managing Parental Anxiety in the longer term.

If you think you might have Parental Anxiety where your anxiety is not transient, if it’s getting in the way of your functioning or triggering upsetting thoughts, it would be a good idea to seek professional help to explore it further and identify ways to manage it.

 

Dr Nithya Nahappan is a British trained GP. Dr Nithya was raised in Singapore as an expat, but returned to the UK for medical training. After working in the UK for many years she returned to Singapore. Dr Nithaya is known for her support patients with mental health and has a special interest in parental mental health. For appointments please contact Osler Raffles Hotel Arcade clinic.
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