There is a specific mindset that has become obvious from working with thousands of parents with Postnatal Depression or Anxiety.
The mindset behind depression
“I’m doing it all wrong. I’m missing out on the connection with my child. I’m not experiencing the life I was supposed to live, or the ideal that I had expected parenting to be. I should be doing it differently. I should be better at this. I’m such a failure. What’s the point of trying? I’m just going to ruin my child’s life. I just want to run away. I want to give up because the pain of feeling like a failure is too strong. I want to escape from my obligations. I can’t do it anymore!”
The mindset behind anxiety
“There must be something more I can do. I should be able to prevent this event happening. I fear that I’m going to, or already have, ruined my child’s life. I worry that what I’m doing is not good enough. I feel anxious when I can’t get the house tidy, fulfil all of my obligations, tend to both children at once, live up to the expectations of others, my parents, or myself. I’m in constant surveillance mode, always looking for what could go wrong, so I can put measures in place to stop it from happening, but I do this with so much angst and fear that it will go wrong, I keep seeing more evidence of more things that could go wrong, so I put more and more goals in place and I can never feel relaxed about life.”
Depression is heavily focussed on the past and the failures I perceive I have had as a result of my life or my actions. Anxiety is heavily focussed on the future. I perceive that I should be able to control the events of my future and worry that I won’t be able to. I fear that I will fail.
It is easy for a parent to swing between depression and anxiety from a minute to minute and we can all fall into these thought patterns, but to varying degrees.
But what if it didn’t have to end up this way? What if there was a way to retrain your brain on how to think/feel differently about the challenges of parenting?
How do we get to the place of depression and anxiety anyway?
What a lot of people don’t know about how the mind and body works, is that when we think any thought, we release a chemical into the body.
If you think the same thoughts over and over again on a daily basis, your brain gets used to the chemical being released and it can become an addiction no different to being addicted to drugs, alcohol, food or cigarettes.
The cells in the body become accustomed to feeling the way you do and it becomes part of your state of being. It becomes a way of life.
How it can be reversed and even prevented
We have so many services in Australia about how to help parents with anxiety and depression, but what if we shifted our focuses to providing preventative education to ALL parents so we could stop anxiety and depression from even becoming a problem?
When we look at a parent who seems pretty chilled out about parenting, it can be easy to blame her easy going nature on her circumstances, and buy into the beliefs that ‘she just doesn’t have to deal with the things I do. She’s so lucky.’ And while this may be the case, often it’s not about the events she is or isn’t experiencing, it’s about her mindset.
What has become most dominant in the parents that we speak to, is how much we personalise the challenges we face as parents.
- My child is having a tantrum becomes, “I’m not a good parent”.
- My child not sleeping, eating or developing becomes, “I’m doing something wrong”.
- My child speaking rudely to me becomes, “They don’t love me or respect me”.
- Getting interrupted while doing something becomes, “I never get any time to myself”.
We get caught in conversations that take up all our attention and keep it from focussing on solutions. This conversation usually follows this path:
- A judgement on how wrong or different it is to the way it was ‘supposed to be’.
- We find evidence of what I am or my child is missing out on.
- We move into trying to understand why things are now going wrong and I/they are missing out and shift into blame. “It’s their fault for not doing something differently” “It’s my fault. I should have made better decisions, or I should know what I’m doing.
- Then we make the event mean something about my life – I’m hopeless, useless, failing, not good enough, I hate my life etc
It’s THIS conversation that is not in the chilled out mother’s mindset. She’s seeing things differently.
She’s seeing the situation the situation as:
- Developmental behaviour.
- An opportunity to change her approach to something that’s not working.
- It’s just part of life’s ups and downs and isn’t happening ALL the time.
- It’s perfectly normal that I won’t know how to do everything and I’ll need to try different things.
- The important thing to understand is, the chilled out mum is not better than the mum who’s not chilled out, they just have different mindsets.
The answer to preventing stress in parenting
Every single one of us have a different mindset that causes how we feel about life, whether that feeling is stress or happiness.
When we are feeling stressed, it’s not just the events we need to turn our attention to changing, it’s our thoughts, our habits of reactions and our physiology – how the body has physically learnt to respond to life’s challenges.
When you work on all three of these things, then you will start to see shifts in how you experience life’s challenges.
The ripple effect of working on your mindset, will not only effect your life, but the way you raise your child, the mindset they adopt about life and society as a whole because of how both of you are now interacting with the world.
This is preventative education and it’s exactly what is needed in the parenting community to put a stop to depression and anxiety in the world.
Have you ever experienced depression or anxiety? Please share in the comments below.