No one would dispute the fact that moms worry.
But some of us don’t simply experience worry and anxiety—instead, we’re often consumed by them. Compared with our peers, we are the outliers, pushing the boundary of what might be considered normal.
Those of us occupying this niche are intimately familiar with what you might call overzealous worry. The anxiety we feel is pernicious enough to impact our daily functioning. We engage regularly in over-thinking. We fear catastrophes both big and small, and overestimate the likelihood of them happening. We create mountains out of molehills, all within the confines of our swirling thoughts.
This is the space in which I live.
I’ve always had a Type A personality, but it was motherhood that kicked my tendency to worry into high gear. When my first daughter was an infant, she would spit up after most feedings. Soon I was calling the pediatrician in tears, convinced my baby had an incurable disease. When a neighbor’s landscaper sprayed outside for weeds, I was terrified that my daughter would somehow develop pesticide poisoning. Instead of enjoying my baby’s early months, I spent hours hovering over my laptop, obsessively researching her toys and gasping in horror if I saw a scary-sounding chemical buried in an ingredient list. My anxiety colored every parenting decision I made.
After my second child was born, I realized that many of my fears were excessive, and I did start to worry less…about some things. For a time, I mistakenly assumed that I would simply grow out of it, that once my children hit certain milestones—sleeping through the night, mastering potty training, sailing through the first day of school—my fears would finally fade.
But here’s the thing about anxiety, especially when you’re a mom: It never really ends. Every day, every freaking second, there’s a new “what-if,” a potentially scary scenario, a question for which you don’t have the answer.
This is the nature of life, of course. No one knows what’s coming around the bend. No one has perfect control. While I doubt most of us enjoy dealing with uncertainty, some of us are able to accept and manage it reasonably well. Not me.
How do I deal with the unknown? Lately, I’ve begun to recognize that—whether intentionally or not—anxiety is the tool I’ve chosen to help me cope in an uncertain world. Anxiety is like a balm that fills the buzzing space in my brain, channeling the energy of a restless mind. Anxiety is my answer to the constant internal refrain, “I should be doing something right now.”
Deep down, I think that as long as I’m actively worrying about something, then maybe, just maybe, I can prevent something bad from happening. If I were more laid-back, like other moms whom I secretly envy, I couldn’t claim this type of power, however imaginary. To be worry-free would feel somehow cavalier, as if I were being irresponsible, shirking my duties.
That sounds ridiculous, I know. Let me be clear: I do realize that worrying is not a productive use of my time, and that I need to do a better job reining it in when it becomes excessive. And over the years, I’ve tried. I’ve dabbled in yoga, acupuncture, meditation, and hypnosis. I’ve worked with therapists and taken medications. But time and again, my tendency toward anxiety has proven to be far more resilient than anything I can throw at it.
As my children grow up, I find myself grappling with whether I should continue trying to combat my anxiety, or simply accept it. I know that the way I cope with my own emotions has a major impact on my kids. Whenever I go into a worry spiral, I think about the type of behavior I’m modeling for my children. I wonder if they will grow up with a personality similar to mine, and if excessive fears will limit their potential in life. I don’t want them to ever feel trapped by anxiety or over-worry. At the same time, I want my children to recognize that no one is perfect, that they don’t need to hide who they are, and that struggling with big emotions does not mean you’re deficient or abnormal; it’s just how you may be wired.
I don’t have the answer. Maybe I need to try harder. Or maybe this is just who I am. Maybe it’s both.
If you are an anxious mom, you are not alone. If you don’t struggle with anxiety but face other challenges, you are not alone. We’re all doing our best to nurture our kids in a world that is by turns heartbreaking and hopeful. Though we realize control is an illusion, we still need to feel grounded and safe, and the way we cope looks different on everyone. And in an uncertain world, our ability to support and accept one another is a powerful tool we shouldn’t discount.