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Turning Anxiety into Security

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As a mother, you have a sense of total responsibility for the life and well-being of your vulnerable child. But you are unable to do much about many things that can affect him or her, such as diseases in other children, how other people drive, workplace policies, or your partner's moods. No wonder you sometimes feel anxious!

Even seemingly small matters can have large stakes, as a single mother with a five-year-old son described: When I dropped Nick off at soccer camp, I realized I'd forgotten his shoes. The coach said he couldn't play without them, so I left Nick there and raced off to get some shoes, with his parting words ringing in my ears: "This is the worst day of my life." Instead of driving twenty minutes each way to home and back, I figured it was best to try some stores nearby. But nothing was open because it was Saturday morning. I got so nervous about all the time this was taking that I yelled at other cars, "Hurry up, move!" All the while I could see Nick standing alone on the sidelines, watching the other children, the minutes ticking by. I get so worried about letting him down: his dad has already done that big time, and I just can't stand the thought of me doing it, too.

Feelings of anxiety can also be triggered or increased by experiences you had as a child. For example, Rick worked with a mother whose son's fiery temperament was just like her dad's. Even though she knew intellectually that Tommy was just a four-year-old, it made her body feel panicky whenever he got mad.

A heightened sense of vigilance after children is normal, Mother Nature's way of keeping your children safe from the local tiger. But anxiety that is "over the top" feels awful. It also wears on your body and mind, and it can lead you to be rigid, controlling, or overly cautious with your children. Lets explore some effective ways to feel safer and more secure.

Talking Back to Anxiety
One powerful method for feeling better fast is to spot the inaccurate, illogical, or overly negative thoughts that make you anxious, and replace them with positive ones. By now, you're probably getting pretty good at this technique. Here are examples of the kinds of thoughts that tend to make mothers nervous, with some sample talk-back rebuttals. We really encourage you to try this technique with your own anxiety-provoking thoughts.

Overestimating the Chances of a Bad Outcome

    Negative Thought
  • He drives faster than me, so the baby is not safe in the car with him.
    Positive Alternatives
  • My husband drives no faster than most other people, and he has never been in a serious accident.
  • He has driven many more miles than me; as a more experienced driver, he can afford to drive a little faster.
  • We have a good car seat, and he is always careful to hook the baby in. He has promised to drive extra carefully with the baby in the car.
Assuming There's Been a Catastrophe
    Negative Thought
  • They're late, they haven't called, something terrible has happened.
    Positive Alternatives
  • Maybe he was delayed getting Henry out of day care.
  • They've been this late before.
  • I know I tend to get worked up with worry, so I can't assume there is actually a real threat just because my body is panicky.
Overgeneralizing
    Negative Thought
  • Amy hangs back in kindergarten, so she won't have many friends growing up, and she'll be lonely all her life.
    Positive Alternatives
  • "Slow-to-warm" is a normal temperament. Amy is a normal five-year-old.
  • There are lots of slow-to-warm people in the world, and many of them have happy lives and good friendships. There is no reason it can't be the same for Amy.
  • Her teacher and I can probably help her find a friend in her class.


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From Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hansen, Jan Hansen, and Ricki Pollycove. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Hanson. Jan Hanson, and Ricki Pollycove. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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