I have spent quite a bit of time addressing the beliefs that lie behind Depression, but I am aware that stress and anxiety are common for parents too.
In fact it is common to swing from stress to depression, from depression to anxiety and back to depression again and also stress to anxiety and then to depression.
This can be confusing, painful and disruptive to your daily life and overall happiness to say the least.
We can use this same process that I have been talking about to help you with your stress and anxiety too.
What causes stress?
Stress occurs because of the conclusion we draw that ‘My life has not gone to plan’. We have an image in our minds of the way life should look and if an event or series of events conflicts with this image and you have your self-worth attached to it then you will experience stress.
The difference between general stress and psychological stress is only the severity of the stress you are feeling. All stress, as I have mentioned several times, comes from a conflict between belief and reality.
Not accepting the reality of what is occurring in your life by believing that it is wrong and an indication of your entire life being disastrous is the misconception that causes stress. It is the misconception that life has to go to plan (or go the way you expect it to) in order for it to be valuable.
Therefore it is how you think about a situation that lies at the core of psychological stress.
The reality is that life doesn’t always go to plan and it doesn’t mean anything about you or your life. It is simply what we all go through. There is value to be found in each and every experience that we have and it is by retraining your mind to look for this value and stop rating events as either good or bad, that will stop you from experiencing stress.
From next week, and over the next three weeks, I will be intensely showing you how to change your thinking to be in alignment with the reality of life in general and the reality of your self-worth.
For now, when you experience stress, remind yourself that this moment is simply a challenge that is here to teach you something. Perhaps it’s there to help you to learn a new skill (eg breastfeeding or organisation) or to help you gain a life lesson. Perhaps stress has occurred in your life so that you would seek out this program and learn to think a different way, stopping your need for life having to go a certain way in order to feel good. This means you will teach your children your new perspective, which breaks the cycle of handing these beliefs down another generation.
What causes Anxiety?
Many people suffer from anxiety or have anxiety tendencies. However, most people only associate anxiety with panic attacks. While panic attacks is a form of anxiety, it is more of a severe case of anxiety.
Anxiety can often be confused with depression, but they are two completely opposite conditions. Anxiety is all about control.
The same beliefs that life needs to go a certain way or I am missing out are there. The same beliefs that I/others ‘should’ be behaving a certain way are still present. The beliefs that if life doesn’t match my beliefs then it will indicate how worthy I am, is also still present.
However unlike depression, where the person feels like a failure and stops setting goals, an anxiety sufferer sets lots of goals. This is because they believe that they can control life to go a certain way and prevent anything from happening that will jeopardise getting life right. Control and prevent are the main objectives of an anxiety sufferer.
At the core of anxiety, just like any form of stress, is the fear of being worth-less. They worry that if they cannot get life right, then what would that mean about them (their worth)?
Let’s look at a few examples of how self-worth is the real fear behind anxiety:
“I worry that I am not a good parent”
The concern here is that my child might suffer because they have a mother/father like me. You might be worrying that your child will have a ‘bad’ (wrong) life because of you. We all know how innocent children are and all want our children to be happy, however your belief in yourself (or lack of belief in your self-worth) has determined that you are not good enough to be a good parent. You already think that there is potential for you to be a bad parent and if you do that and potentially stuff up your child, that doesn’t just make me a bad parent, it makes me a terrible person as well.
This thinking is a result of the incorrect assumption that one can even have a ‘bad’ life and negates the reality that all experiences hold value and provide lessons that contribute to our development. Regardless of what sort of parent you are, you will always be providing your children with what they need for their life to unfold naturally.
However, all of your thinking about how you may not be a good enough parent progresses into the physical feeling of having anxiety because you haven’t been able to control what happens in your life. You start to feel the energy of your thoughts translate into the energy of being tense, shaking and the adrenaline rush you have with anxiety and attacks.
“I have panic attacks about dying”
The concern here is; what happens if I die? I’ll be missing out. (which devalues my life) and my children will be missing out on a mum/dad (which you determine is going to mean that their life is devalued).
This fear comes down to the incorrect belief that life is not worthwhile if you have died or if your child lives without a mum/dad. It’s a tough one to get your head around, I know because you are probably thinking “No, my life isn’t worthwhile if I’m dead”, however this worry is in conflict with the reality that no one knows when their time is up and whenever we meet the end of our days, we would have had the most worthwhile life that we could have had because that’s the way it unfolded and cannot change the past.
Also, if your children experience your death in their lives, then this will be another experience in their lives, an experience that will add to the person they become and the knowledge they have about life. They will not be missing out on the experiences they need on their journey in this life. No life is either good or bad no matter how it unfolds. Worrying about dying is in conflict with the inevitability that one day all of us will die, so by putting our attention on this we’re not able to accept that reality because we are in conflict with it.
“I feel like I’m out of control”
The concern here might be; that I am usually in control but now I find that I am not. This can be common when becoming a parent because if you had the belief that you can control your life all the time, and have been quite successful in doing this most of your life, you could be in for a major shock when having children. We cannot control how our children behave and because they are learning, growing, developing and maturing, this often means there are loads of situations that occur that do not meet your image of how it was supposed to be.
You could get anxious because you can’t control the state of the house, you could get anxious that you can’t stop your child from crying or screaming during a tantrum, or because you can’t get them to behave.
Not being able to control a situation can cause anxiety because you have beliefs about what this must mean about you if you cannot control – “I’ll will look like a bad mother/father, people will judge me (which means I won’t be approved of or accepted), I won’t be the organised person I have defined myself to be, I won’t be the smart one, the capable one, the reliable one etc.” Whatever you have been incorrectly taught to believe you need to live up to will be tested if you cannot control your circumstances and play out these roles. This can potentially lead to feelings of stress, anxiety or depression, depending on which conclusion you draw about what it means that you can’t live up to these roles.
Panic attack/Anxiety after a major event (eg quick labour, long labour, complications at birth, emergency caesarean, a car accident, or a traumatic incident)
When stressful events occur, if you have the belief that life always has to go well in order for it to be going right, and then some event occurs that you consider to be wrong or not how you had planned it, this can all of a sudden make you realise that there is potential for other things to go wrong too. From this incorrect interpretation of this event (it was wrong and caused my life pain or caused it to be worth-less) you start to look around at what else could go wrong too in order to protect yourself from any further pain like what you have just experienced.
This direction of thought starts to expand, as it usually does, and you start to see more and more evidence of what could potentially go wrong in your life. You begin to worry that all these other things could go wrong and this causes you to feel out of control. You have become aware that you can’t really control some things in life (when all this while you unconsciously thought you could) and you may begin to put all of these extreme measures in place to prevent anything from going ‘wrong’ in your life and potentially causing you pain .
All of this comes from incorrect beliefs that life can only be valuable when it goes to plan. Whenever anything perceivably ‘bad’ happens it only causes me pain. However, the event doesn’t cause you pain (well maybe physical pain, but not emotional pain) it is because you cannot see the value in this event and you cannot align with the reality of life and why events like this occur. This is what causes the emotional pain.
Again, you will soon be educated to change your view of life over the coming three weeks.
In all of these examples anxiety was caused because of the beliefs you held about life. You believe that life has to be on the right path (which is dictated by your memes). You believe that it is wrong to miss out on what you want in your life. That not getting what you want means life is going wrong. You lack the knowledge to find the ‘hidden good’ in all experiences and believe that only good things that happen hold value.
You believe that if life does not go down this ‘correct’ path then this will mean that your life has been devalued (worth-less). You could even believe that you would lack the ability to cope with a situation if it doesn’t go ‘right’, and if you can’t cope, then what does that mean about you? If you don’t hold the ability to handle life situations, then you will be struggling which means that you possibly believe that this decreases your life’s value.
Because of this incorrect thinking and views about life being right or wrong, you start to worry about how your life is unfolding. Your mind starts to roll around in ‘what ifs’ worried about what might happen if you can’t control your life.
“What if I can’t cope? What if I am a bad parent? What if ‘x’ happens? What if I get sick?” Etc
With this train of thought travelling downhill fast, you start looking for all the potential scenarios that might mean life is no good. You start to scan your environment for any potential threats to life going the ‘right’ way.
You go into prevent mode and set lots of little goals that will prevent life from going wrong. A couple of examples of this are:
Obsessing over the cleaning
The mindset is: “ I must keep everything clean because this is the only thing I can control.” This may be the case if everything else is chaotic in your life. Perhaps you believe you need to control things to feel ‘good’ so you try to control the only thing that you believe you can – the housework. You may become fanatical about constantly cleaning up all the time. You do this to protect yourself from the pain of believing you are worth-less when you cannot control other areas of your life.
Excessively monitoring your child’s behaviour
The mindset is: I must control my child’s behaviour so they are good all the time. You can get anxious over your child’s behaviour and constantly be searching for evidence of them doing something wrong. This could be because if they do something wrong, you see it as a reflection on your parenting abilities and may feel like a bad parent. You may worry that people are judging you and that you won’t be approved of. You may have high expectations of a child’s behaviour because you associate a good child with being a good parent. You may see their ‘bad’ behaviour as annoying and painful to you, so if you can get them to behave all the time, then you won’t have to experience their misbehaviour (and my life will stay valuable and effortless).
All of these beliefs are in conflict with the reality that you cannot control another human being, and hence you cannot control your child’s behaviour. Also, you are in conflict with the reality that your child is learning and growing and logic and reasoning is one of the last functions of the brain to form, so they probably won’t behave the way you want them to all the time. Also, this monitoring of your child’s behaviour is also teaching them to be critical of themselves and possibly seek approval of others in order to feel validated. There are all sorts of psychological beliefs that could be conditioned in a child that is brought up with someone continually monitoring and trying to control their behaviour.
What happens when anxiety attacks creep up on you?
My husband has suffered from anxiety attacks for the last 12 years. It is a rarity now, as we have discovered the beliefs behind them and he has been very consistent about changing how he views life.
It took us a little while and a lot of conversations to pinpoint what the cause of his anxiety attacks were. This is because they would seemingly just appear from nowhere, usually when it was bed time. But we knew that there was a mind-body connection there. You don’t just get anxious, your brain must first activate certain beliefs you hold which result in the anxiety attack.
We tried to look for what the common theme was from his day or his week that might have sparked the anxiety. We tried to search for repetitive thoughts he was having or reactions he might have had to the events of his day. Bit by bit we pieced together the cause of his anxiety attacks.
For him, it was all about trying to control money so he wouldn’t miss out. His parents had not been wealthy and lived with a very strong ‘missing out’ mentality that he had adopted himself. My husband believed that in order for his life to be valuable he could not miss out on making enough money and needed to avoid struggling with money. He put pressure on himself to provide well for himself, his wife and his children.
He had attached his self-worth (that is, his definition of a successful man, husband and father) to adequately providing for his family and making sure that none of us missed out.
This belief became so strongly entrenched in him that over the years (and particularly when the kids came along and he increased the pressure on himself to make money) that even the slightest worry about money would cause him to get indigestion (a physical result of stress) followed by the anxiety attack where he felt like he was going to die and would have worrying thoughts about dying. He would think about how much he would ‘miss out’ (there’s that missing out mentality again) on the kids growing up and what experiences they would miss out on if he died.
Even now that he is aware of these thoughts that contribute to his anxiety, he still gets indigestion sometimes, but is able to identify the rogue thoughts, change them and practice breathing techniques so it doesn’t evolve into an attack.
Anxiety can occur suddenly and quickly and seemingly for no reason, however there is always a reason behind anxiety and it all comes from the incorrect beliefs that life has to go to plan.
You will learn that life doesn’t have to go to plan in order for it to be valuable. There is value in every experience you have in your life. Knowing this and reminding yourself of this when you get anxious will be what stops the anxiety from recurring.
In tomorrow’s reading I will address the subject of self-criticism and ask you to challenge some of the thoughts you have that cause you to feel bad about yourself and feel like a bad parent.