Emotional Health · Lifestyle

The Bright Side: What—Me Worry?

I have always been a worrier. I plan for things that might go wrong, just in case, like leaving two hours ahead of the suggested time for the airport, even though only once or twice in all my years has this turned out to be really necessary. Then I sit there in the airport feeling slightly foolish (especially when the plane is delayed), but also relieved. I made it!

RELATED: Molly Fisk on April Anxiety

I’m not the sort of person who would have built a bomb shelter in the sixties, but I am full of statistics about drunk drivers. Even when I was a child, I preferred to sit in the little couch section on merry-go-rounds. Those big, shiny horses with their wild manes and flared nostrils looked a little too risky to me.

After my children were born, my worrying had an endless new opportunity to flourish. Who knew so many things were dangerous and deadly? Things that had heretofore seemed harmless—electrical outlets, table edges —took on a sinister new meaning.

When my eldest daughter was about 6 months old we visited my cousin in Los Angeles. After dinner, a boy came by to pick up her daughter, Emily, then 16, for a date (this happened in the last century). Ann, my cousin, said goodnight casually as they discussed curfew, etc. I was horrified, and after they left, I interrogated Ann and her husband: “You’re just going to let her get in a car with that boy?!!? Have you ever driven with that boy? Do you know if he’s ever been in an accident? What kind of car does he drive?” (Happily, Emily survived her date and now has her own teenage daughters to worry about.)

I could not imagine, when my child was 6 months old, that I would ever be able to entrust her to nursery-school teachers, let alone teenage drivers. But in time, I matured, forced by my daughter’s development, and learned to let go—but not to relax entirely. There are some things that just shouldn’t be taken lightly, and teenage boys in cars are high on my list.

RELATED: Dr. Ford on Emotional Health: Social Anxiety Disorder—Leading a Bleak, Constricted Life

Psychologists have identified something they call “free-floating anxiety.” Essentially this refers to a state in which you experience a constant state of anxiety that may not be attached to anything in particular, but if you have a worrying thought, the anxiety can temporarily attach itself there. You have the arousal first (the anxiety) and then the thought (my boss doesn’t like me) or then maybe another thought (why hasn’t that refund come through yet?), and the anxiety can attach itself to either (or both). Think of a person, unable to sleep, who is beset by brooding thoughts of a random nature. They may all be potentially good reasons to worry. Some people, though, can’t turn the worry off.

There are many treatments for this, depending on the cause. Victims of trauma, especially those whose memories may be unconscious, have been shown to benefit from some of the new kinds of treatment that help them recall events, like EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) works for some sufferers of chronic anxiety, and medication has been shown to be helpful. The kind of anxiety that comes from OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) may also benefit from CBT, talk therapy, medication, or a combination of all of the above.

As for us everyday worriers, we may have to live with it. Molly Fisk recommends “priming yourself” for good news rather than bad, and it’s true that having good expectations can help fortify us, improve our moods, and, in some cases, even outcomes. But what about those things we just can’t control? Education can be useful, for example, in learning what is truly dangerous and what is not. Flying in airplanes—not so much. Driving with a teenage boy—don’t say I didn’t warn you!



  1. “Benign Outcomes,” Molly Fisk, Women’s Voices for Change, March 19, 2016.
  2. “EMDR: Taking a Closer Look—Can moving your eyes back and forth help to ease anxiety?” Scientific American  Hal Arkowitz, Scott O. Lilienfeld.  August 1, 2012.
  3. “Teenage Drivers: Be Very Afraid.” Bruce Fieler, The New York Times, March 19, 2016. 


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