The Worry Trap: A Cultural Lie
Two women are sitting in a coffee shop. Both look stressed. One of the women takes a sip from her cup then asks the other one in a loud voice if she’s worried about her daughter finishing up elementary school this year and starting middle school next fall.
“Of course I’m worried,” the second woman replies in an equally loud voice with an angry edge. “I’m a mom. I worry about everything my daughter does, every minute of every day. That‘s what mother’s do.”
They’ve caught my attention. I look toward their table. The first woman nods in agreement, seeming sympathetic. She nods again and her brows wrinkle. Has she stopped thinking of her friend and is now thinking of her own list of worries instead?
Another moment of connection, stolen by our fear culture. I suppress a sigh.
When did excessive worrying become the badge of honor for mothers? And when did people in general decide to add over-worry about, “everything the ones we love do, every second of every day” to our endless list of adult responsibilities?
I’m not a bad person if I don’t worry constantly about the ones I love. But in the world of these women, it is certainly implied that if you don’t wrack yourself with constant worry about whatever, you’re not a good ____________. (Feel free to fill in the blank with any life role, from relationships to work. It’s a one-size-fits-all lie.)
Why do we buy in to such nonsense?
I think most of us want to believe that if we can somehow worry enough, the bad things we worry about won’t happen. Constant worry will have allowed us to recognize all possible bad outcomes and we’ll have given ourselves the time to do an end-run around them. Stop the bad in its tracks.
We like to think we have that kind of foresight and power.
It makes us feel in control.
It doesn’t matter that almost everything most people worry about never happens. And no amount of worry can stop life’s illnesses and accidents. It’s wise to look ahead and make choices for the good of ourselves and our family. But there’s a big difference between applying common sense to life and excessively worrying about everything.
Still, worrying and talking about our worries is touted by many as not only the new normal but required to prove we care. With those two women in the coffee shop, it’s implied that anyone who isn’t constantly worried is failing those they love.
These two women were still in the coffee shop when I left. I don’t know if they lose sleep over their worries, or how much they actually worry at all. Maybe they just agree with others that they worry to fulfill that hidden “worry agenda” that seems to be required.
What about the rest of us? How can a person tell if the “expected” worry level of the culture we’re in has increased in us, veered off into a bad place?
People who decide to see a therapist for their anxiety/worry have reported some of the following experiences:
Can’t control their excessive worrying
Have difficulty falling or staying asleep
Expect the worst
Worry excessively about money, health, family or work, even when there are no signs of trouble
Are easily fatigued
Have difficulty concentrating or their mind goes blank
Have physical symptoms like headaches, trembling, sweating, nausea and feeling out of breath
Excerpt from the online checklist on Psychology Today.
Check out their information on causes and treatments of generalized anxiety.
If you feel like worry is taking over your life and especially if you’ve felt that way for six months or more, consider seeing a therapist to talk about it and gain some perspective. You don’t have to buy the lie our society promotes. Constantly worrying is not a badge of honor. You can live a life that’s free of excessive worry.
- Autumn Starks, LCSW (about)
Founder and Psychotherapist, Starks Therapy Group
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