“Mom anxiety” often extends far beyond the postpartum period. It feels like we’re living in a scary world. We often respond by overparenting or withdrawing from experiences. But that might not be the best approach to help us learn to live with our fears and manage our anxious thoughts.
Today, I’m joined by psychologist Dr. Lauren Cook, author of Generation Anxiety, to unpack mom anxiety and learn how to keep our fears from holding us and our kids back.
Being a millennial mom can be overwhelming. It often feels like the world is full of danger. From horror stories on the news to social media warnings to the pandemic to climate change to violence against minority groups—we have a lot to worry about.
So it’s no wonder that mom anxiety has become such a common experience. We’re mothering with increased pressure to be perfect, and navigating a world that feels scary and uncertain.
But how do we work through those fears, understand how to realistically assess risk, and ensure that our anxiety isn’t getting in the way of experiences for us and our children?
I was so excited to chat with Dr. Lauren about this subject and hear her thoughts on how we can navigate mom anxiety and move forward through our fears.
Dr. Lauren said that anxiety is the most common mental health concern experience that we see—the rates are higher than ever, and symptoms are also more severe.
Part of this is because millennials and Gen Z have lived through many big, frightening experiences—including 9/11, the murder of George Floyd, COVID, and school shootings. Dr. Lauren said that 75% of young adults say they feel unsafe every single day.
We’re also momming in the age of social media. In past generations, when large-scale events would happen, moms might read about them or hear about them, but not in the same way we do now.
75% of young adults say they feel unsafe every single day.
Now, whenever we log into social media we might see awful stories or hear about scary events—sometimes many times throughout the day.
To complicate matters even more, the internet is full of conflicting stories and misinformation. We have the added responsibility of fact-checking, comparing sources, and evaluating everything we hear. It can feel overwhelming.
When we’re confronted with large, scary events, we might feel unable to protect our children and keep them safe. It’s scary to feel like you’re sending your child into danger just by letting them attend school or go out with their friends.
Dr. Lauren said that many of us feel hopeless and helpless, which leads not just to anxiety but also to depression.
We often respond by withdrawing from the world—spending more time at home, eliminating outings, or avoiding events. But Dr. Lauren said that instinct is understandable, but if we run away from problems, we never learn how to solve them.
Instead, we have to find a way to face our fears and solve problems that come our way.
Anxiety has a way of making us unable to properly gauge risk. Our anxieties and fears can become written as narratives that are certain, or more likely than they actually are—especially when it comes to high-stakes fears, such as the safety of our children.
Dr. Lauren pointed out that statistically speaking we’re actually in a very safe time in many ways. Overall crime rate is down for the most part and there is an increase in safety in many places.
And yet, so many of us are feeling unsafe day to day. We often fall into thought traps, assuming the worst or catastrophizing.
Dr. Lauren said that this is happening with fear around death, and also with separation anxiety. Many of her millennial and Gen Z clients are struggling with separation anxiety, fearing that they might not see their loved ones again.
This can affect their ability to communicate problems because they are afraid they can lose their relationships at any point.
Dr. Lauren said it’s important to remember logic and ask ourselves to think about the real chances of something happening. There will always be tragic events, but that doesn’t mean that they are statistically likely to happen to us.
If we let our fears dictate our actions, our world gets smaller and smaller.
She pointed out that if we let our fears dictate our actions, staying home or avoiding experiences, our world gets smaller and smaller, and we feel isolated, leading to more depression and anxiety.
We can find a balance of honoring our feelings, acknowledging our mom anxiety, and still going out and living our lives.
So how can we face our fears and approach anxiety in a healthy way? Dr. Lauren advocates for a two-pronged approach to anxiety called “empowered acceptance.”
First, we have to accept the reality of the situation we find ourselves in. Second, we have to be empowered in our approach and find ways to do something about the situation. If we take the approach of being unable to affect change, our anxiety will continue to persist.
We might not be able to solve all of the world’s problems, but that doesn’t mean we’re completely helpless.
For example, if we are anxious about climate change and what the world is going to look like for our children down the line, we can take steps like getting solar panels, eating less red meat, or using sustainable products in the home.
Dr. Lauren said that an empowered approach needs to happen both on an individual scale and a larger, community scale. We can make changes in our individual lives and homes to do what we can. But we also need to come together as communities to solve the issues we face.
She pointed to the writer’s and actor’s strikes as an example of the empowered acceptance approach. The strikes are partially fueled by concerns over how actors’ digital likenesses can be used in the future. Those involved in the strike are acknowledging their fears and coming together to address them and advocate for themselves.
When we come together to solve problems, we feel much less isolated, alone, and helpless.
When we come together to solve problems, we feel much less isolated, alone, and helpless.
Dr. Lauren said that while a community approach is important, the process often begins individually.
Anxiety often stems from uncertainty—and there are many things in the world that we don’t have control over or can’t find answers for.
In a world that feels uncertain, we have to carve out and find safety for ourselves. When we can feel secure in our own safety, we can go out and make change to help others.
When we can feel secure in our own safety, we can go out and make change to help others.
Dr. Lauren said that one of the most important things we can do is make sure we have people in our lives.
For many people, social anxiety has increased since the pandemic. Collectively, we lost a lot of practice with socializing. For many of us, these effects are still lingering. We might feel uncomfortable socializing or meeting new people and avoid social situations as a result.
Dr. Lauren said to think of socialization as a muscle that has atrophied. We might want to pull back and not engage, but what we really need is to rebuild those social muscles.
She is also an advocate of taking a holistic look at our healing when it comes to anxiety. That might include therapy, medication, bloodwork, or naturopathic approaches. She said that it’s important to look at the big picture of mental health and determine what works for us.
Ultimately, Dr. Lauren hopes that we can learn to view our mom anxiety in a different way. She said that we often feel like we need to make our anxiety go away—by controlling or avoiding. Instead, we can view anxiety not as something to avoid or take away, but as something that is part of us.
There will be many times that we feel anxious during experiences—but that’s ultimately a win because it didn’t stop us from living our lives.
Another common way mom anxiety shows up is overparenting. We might find ourselves helicopter parenting or trying to remove all risk from our children’s lives.
Overparenting is often fueled by intensive mothering ideology (the pressure to be “perfect moms”), fear of shame or judgment, an increase in safety devices that encourage us to be hypervigilant (such as breathing monitors or at-home Doppler devices), or an attempt to swing the pendulum in the opposite direction from which we were raised.
Helicopter parenting doesn’t come from a bad place. We often feel that our hypervigilance, overprotection, or attention to potential risk shows how much we love our children. But if taken to an extreme, it can be suffocating for our kids.
Children need to have their own experiences, develop independence, and build their own resilience. If we want them to be brave enough to put themselves out there or try new things, we have to be okay with letting go of some control.
Children need to have their own experiences, develop independence, and build their own resilience.
That might mean eliminating the overreliance on technology, allowing children to play on their own, avoiding location tracking, or simply letting them make their own mistakes.
Sometimes our children can internalize our anxiety and start to develop their own anxiety, thinking that it might protect them in some way. But we likely want our kids to be willing to have experiences, overcome challenges, and find their own way in life.
It can be helpful to challenge our thought traps when we start feeling anxious. For example, if we find ourselves thinking of what horrible thing might happen, we can pause and come up with three alternative outcomes that are more positive and more likely than what our mom anxiety is causing us to jump to.
Another valuable tool to exercise is the ability to see things from different perspectives. Dr. Lauren said this can be as simple as stopping to listen to an opposing viewpoint on social media rather than just assuming our beliefs must be inherently right. Having curiosity and admitting that we don’t have all the answers can be a way to start questioning or reframing our thoughts.
We can also work on embracing the ordinary, mundane moments of life—for us and our children. Sometimes forced positivity isn’t the answer—realism is. For example, we might be worried about sending our children to summer camp because of all the potential negatives.
Sometimes forced positivity isn’t the answer—realism is.
At the same time, for all we know it could be the best experience of their lives. However, it might be neither—it might just be an experience they go through that just turns out to be okay. Not everything has to be an extreme. Not every moment has to be terrible or extraordinary.
Finally, we can work on exposing ourselves to the things that scare us. Dr. Lauren pointed out that we can think of anxiety as a wave. Every time we face something, our anxiety ultimately goes down—the wave gets smaller and smaller each time. But if we don’t give ourselves the chance to ride through the crest of the wave, it actually gets bigger.
We have to give ourselves the chance to see that can in fact ride out the anxiety when it comes up.
If you’re struggling with mom anxiety, our virtual mom therapists can help! Book a FREE 15 minute virtual consultation today!