Stress and anxiety
Stress and anxiety are similar but different. The physical symptoms – like headaches, stomach aches, rapid heart rate, and tense muscles – are similar, and both can lead to excessive worry, sleepless nights, irritability, exhaustion, and difficulty concentrating.
Stress can be positive or negative, and is normally a short-term reaction to something like a change or a threat. But if stress is sustained, it can trigger anxiety or depression. Anxiety can stop you from functioning as usual, because the intensity of worry about a change or threat is out of proportion with the actual impact of a change, or the likelihood of the threat happening.
Call PlunketLine any time, day or night, on 0800 933 922 if you need advice on child health or parenting, or call or text 1737 any time to speak with a trained counsellor.
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, like worry or fear, and it can be mild or severe. Everyone feels anxious at some point in their life – things like exams or job interviews, for example, can cause anxiety.
Worrying about your child is completely normal – every parent feels some anxiety about their child. Parents worry about lots of things - whether our child is eating too little, eating too much, drinking enough, growing at the right rate, is meeting their milestones, has enough friends – the list continues!
But if the anxiety or worry becomes extreme and doesn’t go away, and starts to affect your daily living and relationships, it’s a good idea to deal with it.
Anxiety is often a reaction to stress, and can occur alongside depression, and some of the signs and symptoms might overlap.
Some of the symptoms of anxiety are that you:
- have trouble sleeping
- find it hard not to worry
- think too much
- feel your worries are increasing
- feel restless
- find it hard to switch off, relax or sleep
- find it hard to concentrate
- get easily frustrated
- have dizzy spells
- feel breathless
- have a constant need to check things
- have constant concerns around your child/ren
- feel your heart racing or have heart palpitations.
You may feel general anxiety, or there might be something specific that’s causing you anxiety.
Read more about anxiety
Managing your anxiety
If you’re generally anxious, you may find the following things help:
- exercising regularly
- cutting back on the amount of caffeine and alcohol you drink
- doing things that relax you – it could be something like yoga, or deep breathing, or mindfulness – anything that helps calm your mind and body
- talking to someone about how you feel, whether that’s your partner, whānau, or a friend. If you’re not comfortable talking to someone you know, you could try a counsellor
- joining a local mums’ or parents’ group can help – you may share similar experiences and be able to support each other.
If there’s a specific problem or situation that’s making you feel anxious, and it’s affecting your daily life, you could try:
- focusing on that one issue and solving it, leaving other things until later. For example, if you’re concerned that your child has a bad cough, focus on helping them feel better and booking an appointment to see the doctor. The washing can wait!
- giving yourself time to calm down before you respond to a situation. For example, if your child comes home from kindy and tells you their friends don’t want to play with them any more, you might feel worried for them. Resist the urge to get on the phone to their parents or to the teacher right away – sleep on it, wait and see what happens the next day, and follow up after that if you’re still feeling worried.
Relaxation techniques: Breathing exercises
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
If you feel anxious most days about a wide range of things, and struggle to remember the last time you relaxed, you may have something called generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).
People with GAD often find when they resolve one anxious thought, another anxious thought pops up that needs to be dealt with. GAD can be treated with psychological therapies or medication.
If you're concerned about your anxiety levels, see your doctor.