Almost instinctively, you make sure your child’s shoes are tied so she won’t trip, grab the lollipop that fell on the floor before it makes its way back to his mouth, and hold hands tightly when crossing the street. As protectors of your children, you are most likely an expert at making quick decisions to keep them safe.
So how do you as parents begin to feel safe in a world in which horrendous acts of murder are happening in institutions that our children are sent off to day after day?
After a horrific incident such as the most recent mass school shooting, it is normal to be consumed with feelings of emptiness, powerlessness, deep sorrow, and anger.
Those of you prone to anxiety may begin to ruminate about worst-case scenarios, become overwhelmed by “what if” thoughts, and be unable to relax when your child is not in your care. When anxiety runs high, your thoughts may become distorted and you may feel convinced that you live in a reality in which something bad is going to happen to the people you love the most.
So how can you consciously become a calmer parent and begin to surf the waves of uncertainty tomorrow brings?
Stay in the Present – When you find your thoughts spiraling, come back to this moment. Connect with your five senses. Feel your body on the chair you are sitting on, smell the candle you have burning… If you are with your children, get a camera out and take pictures, zoom in and focus on the details of their chubby cheeks and curly locks. Our brain cannot ruminate about what may happen in the future and be in the moment at the same time. So train your brain to notice the here and now and disengage from your catastrophic thoughts.
Self Care – You have probably heard this a million times, but it is something that cannot be emphasized enough. As a parent, you are constantly thinking of meeting the needs of your little ones and it can be exhausting. It is important that you intentionally carve out time to rejuvenate yourself. Being tired is a perfect breeding ground for anxiety.
Expose Yourself – Exposure is the opposite of avoidance. You are naturally programmed to avoid situations that make you uncomfortable, but, unfortunately, when your irrational fears begin to convince you that you are not safe you may begin to create barriers for yourself in order to keep your feelings of discomfort at bay. By doing so, you are allowing your anxiety to win and have control over you. To triumph over your anxiety, you must face your feelings of discomfort little by little. Once you get over the hump of discomfort, you will be surprised how quickly your body will naturally calm down on its own.
Name Your Thoughts – Become a detective regarding how your thoughts affect the way you feel. Thoughts that increase anxiety almost always begin with “what if”, are overgeneralizations, assign blame to oneself, and magnify the negative. If you can recognize and label your anxious thoughts, you then have the power to consciously change illogical thoughts to those that are much more rational and adaptive.
Get Help – Whether it means calling your mother, your best friend, or your therapist, reach out for help. Be open to the village of support around you. There is no medal for suffering alone.
Call our helpline anytime at 1.800.944.4773 or text us at 503-894-9453. Please remember that you are not alone. We are here for you. Leave a message and one of our volunteers will call you back within hours. We will listen, share information, and help you find the help you need.
Suma Karandikar is a founding member of Postpartum Wellness Center, LLC and is a licensed clinical professional counselor. Suma has been working as a clinician for the past 14 years. She particularly enjoys working with issues related to pregnancy and parenthood. She has received highly specialized training in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Suma enjoys working with individuals and couples as they adjust to new roles and identities as parents. Other areas of expertise include helping those coping with miscarriage, infant death, as well as post-abortion counseling. Suma is a member of Postpartum Support International and serves as a facilitator for PSI’s “Chat with an Expert” phone line. Suma is a Certified Gottman Method Couples Counselor and is also skilled in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. She has had the opportunity to counsel women in London, England around pregnancy and parenting issues. She previously worked as a youth and family counselor at the White Plaines Youth Bureau in New York and at Omni Youth Services in Illinois. Suma served as the clinical director at PHD, a counseling center for pregnancy, help and education. Suma earned a B.S. in psychology from the University of Iowa and a M.A. in Community Counseling from Loyola University Chicago. In her undergraduate and graduate programs, Suma worked as a child development researcher.