Coping With Anxiety When You Have A Baby With A Heart Condition

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Anyone who has ever experienced anxiety knows that this condition is so much more than just passing fear or worry.

As the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) explains, everyday worries tend to disappear over time. But anxiety doesn’t. In fact, it can worsen as time goes by.

While having a baby with a heart condition doesn’t necessarily put all parents at a higher risk of experiencing anxiety, it can increase that chance in people who have other risk factors. The NIMH explains that these factors include:

  • Shyness as a child
  • Divorce or widowhood
  • Exposure to stressful life events—in either childhood or adulthood
  • Family history of anxiety

Here’s what parents of babies with heart conditions should know about identifying and coping with anxiety.

Identifying Anxious Thoughts

Sometimes simply knowing that what you’re experiencing is anxiety can be difficult. So there are times when psychologists have to teach people to be aware of their anxious thoughts.

It’s important to remember that anxieties are worries about things that may or may not come true. For instance, if I have a fear of heights, I might be worried about falling when I’m up in a high building. But that doesn’t mean I absolutely will fall off the building.

So sometimes anxious thoughts can be irrational in many respects. Getting people to identify these thoughts—and whether they’re irrational—is an important first step toward coping.

Knowing When To Get Help

coping with anxiety

After all, this is a normal feeling that all of us experience from time to time. So it’s more about getting that worry under control than getting rid of it altogether.

My general rule when talking to people about anxiety is that if it feels like it’s starting to hinder your daily functioning, get help.

Coping With Anxiety

Positively, there is good evidence that anxiety is treatable. For most people, therapy can be very helpful.

Some people may explore medications to assist in managing their anxiety. There is research that supports the idea that a combination of both medication and therapy can be the most effective treatment for many people.

One of the coping skills we teach in therapy is being able to “boss back” anxious thoughts. If you know your thoughts are a result of your anxiety—and that they aren’t helping you—treat them like a bully.

That means looking at them and saying, “I don’t have to listen to you.” This skill takes practice, but it is doable.

More informally, it might also help to go to your spouse or another loved one and bounce your anxious thoughts off of them.

Sharing your feelings with someone close to you gives that person the opportunity to help you see which thoughts are rational and which are not. And they might also be able to come up with ways to help you cope that you might not have thought of on your own.

Spouses, especially, can be very insightful because not only are they living the experience of parenting a baby with a heart condition alongside you, they might also be experiencing anxiety of their own. So working together to address these anxieties can be beneficial to both of you.

Ultimately, coping with anxiety matters not only for your own wellbeing, but also your heart kid’s. This is because when you take care of yourself, you are better able to take care of your child.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Sean Akers

Hi, I’m Dr. Sean Akers, and I’m a Licensed Clinical Pediatric Psychologist at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha. I serve as the primary psychologist for the heart transplant team as well as the coordinator of the Consult Liaison Service. My job is to provide heart kids and their families with support throughout their journey.

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