What to Do If You Struggle With the Anxiety of Planning

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In this day and age, it's not uncommon for parents to believe they have to meet a set of high expectations in order to be good parents. For instance, you may feel pressured to create the perfect meal plan, schedule playdates with friends, plan educational activities every day, incorporate plenty of time for exercise, and so much more.

But what happens when those expectations are unattainable or you fail to meet them after a day or two and you're feeling overwhelmed and anxious?

If you struggle with the anxiety that comes with trying to plan the perfect day, week, or month for you and your family, you are not alone. In fact, many parents struggle with the quest for the ideal family life. And then when they don't meet these expectations, they can quickly fall into a pit of despair struggling to overcome anxiety and guilt.

Why People Have Anxiety About Planning

There are a number of reasons why the anxiety to plan may creep into a parent's life. Aside from the fact that many parents today feel stretched too thin, many fall into the trap of wanting to be the ideal parent. And so, they set these high expectations for themselves and then struggle with feeling anxious about achieving them.

Sometimes this anxiety stems from a fear of failure that keeps them immobilized. Other times they just don't know where to start. But many times, the anxiety they are experiencing is rooted in the quest for perfectionism.

In fact, one study conducted by Ohio State University found that parents of newborns show poorer adjustment to their new role if they feel like society expects them to be perfect moms and dads.

These societal demands—or society-oriented perfectionism—caused moms to struggle with having confidence in their parenting abilities and dads to experience more stress.

However, the study noted that self-oriented perfectionism, which are the standards people set for themselves, were less destructive to new parents than the pressures they felt from society. In fact, they found that self-oriented perfectionism sometimes resulted in higher satisfaction, lower stress, and higher self-efficacy, especially for fathers.

The researchers aren't sure why fathers tended to respond better to self-imposed perfectionism but theorized that it could have to do with the fact that their high standards motivated them to be more involved parents. So, they felt confident and self-assured that they were being good parents.

How to Cope With the Anxiety

Feeling anxious can be debilitating at times, leaving you feeling like you are frozen in time and unable to move forward and accomplish anything. If this describes how you're feeling when it comes to planning, you are not alone. But, it's equally important to know how to cope with these feelings and move forward.

Identify the Cause

The first step is identifying why you are feeling anxious or guilty. Really stop and think about what is at the root of your anxiety. For instance, maybe you have too much on your plate and that is causing you to feel overwhelmed or stuck.

Perhaps you're afraid of failing or don't know where to start. Or maybe you're struggling with a physical or mental health issue that is zapping your energy or increasing your anxiety levels. You could even be struggling with perfectionism.

Whatever your reason for feeling anxious, you cannot expect to find healthy ways of dealing with your emotions if you don't know what's really causing them.

Address Your Emotions

Once you know why you are feeling anxious, then you can address it head-on. For instance, if you struggle with perfectionism, you can lower your expectations and recognize that it's OK to be a good parent. Or, if you are feeling stretched too thin, reducing some of your commitments might be the best place to start.

Meanwhile, if you're afraid of failing, maybe you need to remind yourself that it's OK to make mistakes. Life is messy and it doesn't have to be perfect. In fact, part of the joy in a life well-lived is getting a little messy and making mistakes.

Accept Your Strengths

Keep in mind too, that when it comes to planning, this skill doesn't come naturally to everyone and that's OK. For instance, you may be a more spontaneous person or maybe you like to leave your options open. It's important to recognize and appreciate your temperament.

Trying to force yourself to be someone you're not will almost always create anxiety. This doesn't mean you can't learn how to plan if you really want to, but don't beat yourself up if it doesn't come naturally for you.

Talk to a Professional

Finally, if you're having trouble identifying why you're feeling anxious, or if there seems to be no explanation for your anxiety, talk to your doctor or mental health professional. They can help you address your anxiety and find healthy ways of coping.

You also can contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

Tips for Planning in the Future

When it comes to planning, it's important for parents—especially new parents—to avoid trying to do too much. In other words, instead of trying to create the perfect life or be the ideal parent, focus on one thing that you want to change.

For instance, if you want to have a meal plan for your family, focus on that. Or, if you want to make sure you're getting outside for fresh air and exercise, focus on that. But, don't try to change everything all at once.

Putting a lot of pressure on yourself or having a long list of expectations, is just going to heighten your anxiety. Choose one thing you want to change and then break it into small, manageable goals that you can attain.

So, if you decide to focus on making a meal plan for your family, set small goals you know you can achieve. Avoid trying to plan an entire month at one time. Maybe even planning an entire week may be too much for you. Decide on a goal you know you can meet and then go from there. If you happen to do more, then you have even more reason to celebrate.

The key is that you set a goal you know you can reach. If you set your goal too high and then fail, you will likely experience more guilt and anxiety. But if you set a goal that is reasonable and achievable, you are more likely to be successful. Then, you can build on that success. And if you don't achieve your goals for the week, that's OK. You can try again next week.

Also, be sure to evaluate why you are trying to meet these goals. In other words, are you trying to engage in meal planning because you think it's what you're supposed to do; or are you engaging in meal planning because it's what you want to do? Recognizing the difference is important in managing your anxiety. 

To help limit your anxiety and guilt, you need to know where these desires are coming from. If you are putting these demands on yourself because you think it's what society expects, then you are more likely to experience stress and anxiety. But if these expectations are something you truly want to accomplish, then you will not only be more motivated to do it, but you will feel less stress and anxiety overall.

A Word From Verywell

Be kind and patient with yourself. It's OK if you don't have a meal plan for your family or regular playdates on the calendar. Likewise, it's fine if the only thing you accomplish in a day is providing for your child's basic needs.

Perfection is unattainable. So, don't beat yourself up if you don't have the perfect meal plan, a killer exercise routine, and a house stocked with educational toys. As long as your child is healthy, happy, and loved unconditionally, you are doing a great job as a parent.

Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.