By Karen Espig

Welcoming a new human into your world is a life-altering event. It brings wonder and joy alongside the inevitable stress and exhaustion. It requires a whole new set of skills and adaptations to the existing habits….enjoying your meals cold, for example! It is no wonder then that worry and anxiety creep into the mix.

Let’s talk about parental anxiety, the healthy ways to cope, and when to get help.

Anxiety: A Primer

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines anxiety as an “emotion characterised by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes”. Anxiety causes the body to respond as though there is a specific threat when, in fact, it is a perceived future threat. It is estimated that 19% of adults in the USA have anxiety in any given year, and 31% will have experienced it at some point in their lives. So, you are not alone in this.

There is a difference between feeling anxious (a normal and transient emotion) and having anxiety (a persistent and recurring state). We all experience various levels of anxiety as part of the human experience: think about how you felt in the hours before a school exam or an important job interview. Over time, we find ways to cope and work through those moments. People with anxiety disorders find their feelings of worry or dread challenging to manage, and they experience significant impacts in day-to-day life. Their behaviours may also affect the people around them, including their children.

Parental Anxiety

It is, of course, to be expected that new parents are overwhelmed with feelings (including worry and anxiety) at the arrival of a new child into their world. Parental anxiety is when the concern is focused on the child and their current and future well-being. Ironically, it may actually result in decreased well-being for the child depending on the level and duration of the anxiety. It is possible to pass on this pattern of behaviour to them.

So how do you know when you’ve crossed the line from healthy feelings and entered the world of an anxiety disorder? 

Symptoms Of Anxiety

Symptoms for parental anxiety are similar to other anxiety disorders, which include: 

  • physical symptoms such as a pounding heartbeat, trouble breathing, dizziness, shakes, sweating, headaches, muscle aches, upset stomach
  • frequent feelings of restlessness, worry, irritability, or panic
  • Racing or intrusive thoughts and persistent fear that something terrible will happen

More specific symptoms for new parents are:

  • avoiding putting a child in relatively safe situations as they perceive them as harmful
  • parental burnout due to physical and emotional exhaustion
  • vocalising feelings of worry or stress to other people, including your child
  • having frequent thoughts that something terrible could happen to your child
  • being distracted due to spending excessive time worrying, causing inattention where it is needed

When To Get Help

When in doubt, get some professional insight and help. If your feelings and behaviours fall into the healthy zone, fantastic. This might even be confidence building! 

One clear sign that your anxiety is slipping into the unhealthy zone is if you are having difficulty doing your job (whether as a full-time parent or working in an external workplace) or getting along with other people is a strain. 

Another sign you are experiencing unhealthy anxiety is that these persistent worries have been going on for several months.

If your feelings seem too intense for what the situation reasonably calls for, or if the feelings linger even after the worry has been assuaged, find an appropriate therapist or group session and get some external insight. 

Why Is It Important To Get Help

Well, the easy answer is: to improve the quality of life for you, your family, your child, and all around you. Evidence suggests that children raised by individuals with anxiety disorders are more likely to develop anxiety disorders too. 

How To Cope

There are a wide variety of options at your disposal. Start by talking about it with your partner, friends you trust (especially those with children), or a counsellor or psychologist. 

Spend time investigating specific worries. Ask yourself if it is based on facts or fears. Is it reasonable? 

Rewire your brain. Most skills are mastered by practice and repetition. When you worry a lot, you get good at it. You can choose which thoughts you pay attention to and where to focus your energy. 

If your children are older, teach them about personal safety so that they may make good decisions to avoid real-threat situations.


We all love this one! Finding a little bit of time for yourself daily goes a long way. Try it.

Thankfully, the conversation around anxiety, in general, is less stigmatised than ever these days and helpful resources that work are readily available. Rest assured, it is normal to feel anxious as a parent, but be mindful that it doesn’t become your normal.