Default Worries and What They Do for the Brain

Default Worries and What They Do for the Brain

By Allison Edwards


Default worries is a term I came up with several years ago when I had kids returning to my office with the same fears they had months, even years before. They would come in fearing death, getting sick, getting old, failing out of school, not getting into college, etc. They had seemingly moved past those fears but here they were again. Back and bigger than ever.

As I often do, I reflected on my own anxiety to see if I could understand this pattern. Why is it that we cycle through old worries when there is no known trigger for them? Why do old worries come up when we thought they were resolved? After some reflection and some research on the anxious brain (my continual process), I realized that the problem is not with the worries themselves but that the anxious brain is constantly scrounging around for something to worry about.

Just like Walter is always looking for a broken chicken bone on a walk (even after eating a full bowl of food), the anxious brain is not satisfied until it has something to worry about. Peace, harmony, stillness are not things the anxious brain is comforted by. It needs something to worry about. All the time.

And that’s when the Default Worry comes into play. It occupies the mental energy of the brain, giving it something to focus on. “Ah! There you are. I can worry about you for a while.” And the brain is happy. Or at least satisfied for a while. When there is something new to worry about (math test, new school year, fight with a friend), the Default Worry fades away, waiting to appear when it is needed again.

So what is the takeaway here? Parents, don’t try to put out the fires (default worries) for your kids. Don’t accommodate. Don’t stress. The problem is not with the worry itself, the problem lies underneath the worry. The undercurrent of fear is the problem. So how do you help kids when Default Worries come up?

Say, “You seem worried about dying. I remember when you were worried about that last year. When you’re worried, you can ______ . (Plug an anxiety-reduction tool here.) Which tool would you like to try?”

This is a much better option than spending the evening talking about death. Trust me. The worry will come back around. Don’t get too hung up on it.

Continue to interrupt the downward spiral of negative patterns such as catastrophizing or black and white thinking by reframing your thoughts with a helpful mantra or empowering perspective. Instead of thinking or saying, “I’ll never lose this weight” switch to “I’ll do what I can today.” This influences your next step—whether to eat a tray of brownies or hit the gym. Easy to do? No! Doable? Absolutely!

By accepting your worry and choosing not to be consumed by it, you take control and change your relationship with worry. By viewing worry as an opportunity vs. an obstacle, you can learn how to manage anxiety provoking thoughts and situations, so you can feel and think better and do more of what you love.

Click here to visit Allison’s blog with more articles and tips on worry.


Click here for more information about Allison Edwards and to see the books she has written about worry.