In today’s episode, I’m joined by Dr. Lauren Cook, who will be diving into a topic that affects many parents in the modern era – anxiety in Gen Z.

Gen Z Anxiety: Navigating Parenthood in Uncertain Times

Dr. Cook, a therapist and author, brings her expertise and insights from her book “Generation Anxiety,” which provides a guide for millennials and Gen Z to navigate an uncertain world.

We’ll be exploring how anxiety manifests in young people, particularly as they contemplate starting a family or becoming parents. Plus, we’ll discuss strategies for overcoming fear, managing anxiety, and finding empowerment in the midst of uncertainty.

During our conversation, we chat about the fears and anxieties surrounding starting a family and becoming parents, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and concerns about climate change. Lauren offers invaluable insights on how to tackle these challenges and find a sense of community and connection even in uncertain times.

If you’ve ever experienced anxiety, worried about starting a family, or simply want to gain a deeper understanding of Gen Z anxiety, this episode is a must-listen.

Get ready for an insightful and empowering conversation. Let’s dive in!


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Resources Mentioned During the Episode

During the podcast, several resources and tools are mentioned to help with anxiety, mental health, and fear during pregnancy. Here are some of the resources that are discussed:

1. Music: creating a playlist of uplifting songs on your phone or using a music streaming platform like Spotify to have uplifting music readily available for easy access when feeling down.

2. “Empowered Acceptance”: explores acknowledging the difficult and scary realities of life, taking action, and finding ways to be part of the solution.

3. Therapy: holistic healing and therapy on an individual level to address mental health challenges.

4. Calm App: for guided mindfulness and mentions enjoying guided mindfulness with this app. They also suggest downloading the hypnobirthing app called Calm Birth.

5. Self-Care Kit: creating a self-care kit that engages all the senses. This may include items that can be touched for comfort, aromatherapy for relaxation (such as peppermint essential oil), sound machines or music, visual cues like family pictures or favorite quotes, and even taste-based items like peppermint candy or gum to help with anxiety.

Overall, the podcast provides a range of resources and approaches to support those dealing with anxiety, fear, and emotional well-being during pregnancy and motherhood.

Episode Timestamps

00:01:35 Lauren had a baby, discussing fear during pregnancy.
00:04:12 Fear of losing control during birth.
00:06:56 Apprehension and excitement normal for pregnancy decision.
00:10:42 Writing “Generation Anxiety,” paralleling pregnancy, high anxiety, pleasant ending with breach baby, commonality of breach births, peaceful C-section, beautiful birth.
00:14:50 Anticipatory anxiety is worse than reality.
00:18:53 Anxiety in youth: prevalence and cultural impact.
00:22:26 Exposure therapy: practice and face-to-face interaction.
00:23:59 Anxiety feeds into family planning, COVID impact.
00:28:55 Fast paced world makes it hard to stay.
00:32:36 Empowered acceptance: acknowledging realities, taking action.
00:34:06 Holistic healing can be approached indirectly.
00:37:06 Deviance from norm, dysfunction, danger, support
00:40:15 Music game changer. Lift you. Spotify playlist.
00:46:47 Fear Free Childbirth podcast: removing pregnancy fear.

Episode Guest

Meet Dr. Lauren Cook, a licensed Clinical Psychologist, company consultant, author, and speaker. With a doctorate in Clinical Psychology and her Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy, Dr. Lauren appears frequently in the media to provide commentary while also working with companies as well as individual adults, couples, families, and teens to help reduce anxiety and improve personal and professional outcomes.
She integrates evidence-based tools from a systems lens and she speaks internationally, both in-person and virtually. Dr. Lauren owns a private practice, Heartship Psychological Services, serving all clients residing in California.

You can connect with Dr. Lauren through TikTok, Instagram, her Brain Health Book Club, and through her podcast, The Boardroom Brain. Stay tuned for Dr. Lauren’s latest book, GENERATION ANXIETY—set to hit the shelves in September 2023.

Other Links:
Heartship Psychological Services:

Episode Transcript

Alexia [00:00:34]:

Now, on today’s show, I’m going to be speaking to Dr. Lauren Cook, and we’re going to be speaking about gen z and anxiety. Anxiety is something that a lot of us struggle with, but I think that when it comes to millennials and gen z, they are considered to be two of the most anxious generations in history. And so I really wanted to sort of dive into the topic of anxiety with a real focus on how anxiety is being experienced by these generations, and particularly because they are the generations that are coming into parenthood. So for me, when it comes to contemplating parenthood, having a baby, and how anxiety might feed into your own fears around birth, this felt like a really important conversation to have. And Dr. Cook is bringing a book out imminently. It might already be out in your local bookstore called Generation Anxiety a Millennial and Gen Z Guide to Staying afloat in an uncertain world. So we’re going to be diving into that conversation.

Alexia [00:01:35]:

Also, Lauren has just had a baby, so she’s just come out. She’s got a new squishy newborn that she is making friends with, getting to know. So we dive into some of that, too, because, of course, I’m always interested in how people’s pregnancies went and how their birth went. But before I dive into that conversation, I want to answer a question that I’ve had from a listener. So the question I’ve had is, how can you trust that you’ve conquered your fear enough to move forward with pregnancy? Now, this is a really good question, and I’m glad it’s been asked, because I’m more than happy to dive into this. So a good place to start would be how do you know when you’ve healed of something? Or how do you know when you have cleared the fear? And I’m going to be speaking specifically in regards to using head trash clearance, the technique that I developed, because that is where I have my knowledge, and that is also where I can give you concrete answers. So when you have cleared a fear using head trash clearance, the end result of that is you feel neutral. You’re in a state of neutrality about the thing pain, for example.

Alexia [00:02:39]:

So let’s say you have a fear of pain. And this fear that you have of pain is every time you think of pain, you tense up, you get really anxious. Your body, your legs, tighten up together, you frown, you’ve got tension in your shoulders. All of these things come into play the minute you kind of think about pain, the idea of experiencing pain. And so that tells me that there’s a very visceral fear at play if these are your responses to pain and thinking about pain. Now, once you have cleared that fear of pain, and there could be many strands to this fear, so it might mean one clearance or it could mean several, it could be connected to some other themes for you. And that is unique to everybody. But once you have cleared it, the way that you know that it’s clear is that when you think about the idea of pain or experiencing pain, you think, oh well, okay, so what? I’ll deal with it, it’s going to be fine, I’ll be absolutely fine, whatever.

Alexia [00:03:37]:

I can handle it, I can handle it. And it’s that state of not being bothered, not being, not caring about it, thinking, well, I’ll just take it my stride, I’ll handle it when it comes. That’s the position that you reach when a fear is no longer a fear, where you’re contemplating this thing and it’s like, okay, well, I’ll take it my stride. And that can be a really good sign where you simply just don’t care about the prospect of that thing anymore. It doesn’t kind of trigger you. It doesn’t bring up any anxiety in you. You just feel neutral. So whether you experience pain or not, it doesn’t really matter.

Alexia [00:04:12]:

You’re still going to go through the thing and yada, yada, yada, that’s how that feels. So how does that feel then, with a different fear? Let me give you another example. So another really common fear that people have around birth is control, and the fear of losing control or not being in control. And so when somebody has a fear of not being in control or that the idea of losing control and that could be fear of losing control of their emotions, of their state of mind, but also of the situation or their bodily functions, that level of control that you might feel that you’re losing could affect different aspects of your being. So when you have overcome that fear, you reach a place where you think, well, okay, so I might lose control. Doesn’t matter, I’ll be fine, it’s okay, I don’t need to be in control. I might start crying in an uncontrollable mess, and that’s okay because I probably just need to express that and get out of my system. Or maybe if I’m thinking about birth and I think I might wheel over the floor or something, then, well, that’s okay, that happens.

Alexia [00:05:11]:

It’s a normal bodily function. It’s not going to kill me, it’s fine. You just reach this place where you’re just not bothered. That’s how you know that this fear has cleared. So let’s take this forward then. When you, let’s say you’ve had a lot of fears that you’ve worked through and now you’re, am I ready for pregnancy? Then how do you know if you’re ready to move forward with pregnancy? Well, at that point, you can think, how would I feel right now if I saw a pregnancy test and it was confirmed that, yes, I was pregnant? How would that make me feel? And you might think, Actually, I’m okay with that situation now. Of course, it might be very different when it actually happens. The reality of it might strike very differently to the imagined version.

Alexia [00:05:54]:

Okay. And that happens. But if in your mind you can contemplate that position and you’re like, actually, I feel quite neutral if I’m pregnant now, great, okay. And if I’m not pregnant, well, I will just keep trying. It’s that kind of it’s okay if I am, It’s okay if I’m not. That’s what this neutrality position is, where you are happy to go either way. You’re happy being pregnant or you’re happy not being pregnant.

Alexia [00:06:18]:

Of course, there might be an overwhelming desire for pregnancy and you might be slightly disappointed, but that disappointment is not the same as, oh, thank God for that. Oh, my goodness, that would have been a nightmare. That’s not that is it? It’s a very different position or a different state of mind to think, okay, well, we’ll keep trying and see you next time. Fingers crossed for next time. That’s a calm, neutral response to the prospect of pregnancy compared to, oh, my goodness, oh, my goodness. Panic, panic, panic. Am I pregnant? Oh, my God. That kind of like tension, anxiety and overall sort of sense of panic coming on at the prospect of pregnancy.

Alexia [00:06:56]:

Now, the thing that I do want to say is that obviously the decision to have children and move forward to pregnancy is a big decision. And so that may still be met with some apprehension and some nervous tension or excitement or something that gives you butterflies or a bit like, oh, my goodness, is this the right thing for me, that kind of thing. But that kind of apprehension is natural, is normal, and is not necessarily fear. And so it’s important to start to discern what you’re noticing, what you’re feeling, to see whether, is this what I’m feeling? Is this just a little bit of excitement with a little bit of fear thrown in? But actually it’s a natural level of fear. It’s a normal level of fear for somebody to be thinking or feeling going into such a big life change, because when we go through something that is new, that is quite significant, there’s always going to be a level of apprehension. If you start your first day at a new job, you’re going to be slightly worried, slightly apprehensive before you go in because it’s all unknown. Similar kind of feelings might show up when you’re contemplating pregnancy. Once you’ve got over all those fears, you’re like, oh, my God, this is going to be new and all of that, but that’s not the same as this visceral fear that you might have felt previously.

Alexia [00:08:14]:

So it’s really to tune into how does that fear feel within you, in your body. And if you’ve managed to eliminate these strong physical sensations that crop up with the fear, whenever you want to connect to this idea of the fear or thinking about it, or the prospect of experiencing this thing that you fear, if you have lost those visceral reactions that kind of immediate trigger, then that’s a good sign. But also notice what’s going on in your mind and whether or not now you’re like, actually I can take it or leave it, actually I’m okay with this. I feel quite neutral and you feel calm and almost like the information is coming into your space, into your headspace, and it isn’t dragging in with it, loads of emotions with it. It’s coming in quite clean and content free in that respect. This idea of pain comes in, you’re like, well, of course I wouldn’t want to experience pain because that’s weird. But if I do experience, if I do experience pain, I’ll be fine because it won’t last long and I’ll get over it and I’ll move on. That’s a very different state of mind.

Alexia [00:09:18]:

So I hope that that helps. For those of you that are wondering, what does it look like when you have conquered a fear? Okay, so I’m going to go back to today’s episode and a conversation with Dr. Lauren Cook. Now, as part of this conversation, we’re going to be diving into all manner of aspects of anxiety and we’re also going to touch on emetophobia, which I touched on a few weeks ago because Lauren also suffered from emetophobia, which is a fear of being sick. So this was a big deal for her in the lead up to her pregnancy, but I’ll let her talk all about it and tell us more about how her pregnancy journey was, but also spilling the beans on anxiety for the millennial and Gen Z generations. Enjoy. Hello Lauren, and welcome to the podcast.

Lauren [00:10:05]:

Oh, Lexi, it’s so good to be with you. Thanks for having me.

Alexia [00:10:08]:

That’s OK. We’re going to have such a great conversation. I know, because there are so many topics before we recorded that I said I really want to talk about this and I want to talk about this. The main meat of the conversation. I think today is really going to be around anxiety, and specifically around anxiety for Gen Z, because that is a huge topic that I really want to dive into as they are thinking about planning, think about having a family. But you’ve just become a mum three months old. You’ve got a three month old. So let’s just talk very briefly about your own journey, becoming a mum and your pregnancy journey.

Alexia [00:10:40]:

Would you mind just sharing a little bit about that, Lauren?

Lauren [00:10:42]:

Oh, absolutely. Well, it was so funny writing this book, generation Anxiety, kind of in a parallel timing with getting pregnant, being pregnant. I had so much anxiety around pregnancy and what that would all entail. When we were talking before we hit record, I’ve got a very fun phobia, emetophobia, which is a phobia of vomit, which as you can imagine with pregnancy is like prime exposure, right? Very anxious about that, but honestly had a really nice, healthy pregnancy, ended up having a little breech baby. So I am convinced that breech babies are more common than the literature says. It says like 1% to 3% of babies are breached. But I don’t know, four out of ten mommies in my Mommy and Me class we had breach babies, so ended up having a plan C section and really actually felt a lot of peace in that. In the end, it was still a very beautiful birth.

Lauren [00:11:37]:

How he came into this world. Now I’ve got a three month old little Derek.

Alexia [00:11:41]:

So let’s just talk about the vomit phobia briefly because I know this is a very, very common phobia. If not, sometimes I see it stuck at the top of the charts. In terms of one of the most common phobias, how did that manifest for you? Have you always had it?

Lauren [00:11:55]:

Yeah, I write about this in the book, and oftentimes people who have this phobia, they have some kind of trauma around vomit, but not always. It might be a really embarrassing experience they had where they got sick or someone got sick on them. That disgust piece in the brain is so powerful, and that’s really what vomit is for a lot of people. It feels pretty disgusting. My mom had breast cancer when I was two years old and was very sick. Of course, I don’t consciously remember any of this, but I was throwing up a lot from chemotherapy. I was often physically removed from my house, I think, to kind of try to protect me from seeing her so sick. But I think that really led me to internalise that vomit was out of control, was sickness, was potentially even life threatening and death.

Lauren [00:12:45]:

I’m really happy to say that my mom is healthy and well, and I saw her yesterday and she’s loving being a grandma. I think seeing her at least unconsciously as a little child, that really led to some very deep trauma for me. And I’ve always had this phobia of vomit ever since. And it’s been fascinating with the book coming out because I write a lot about emetophobia in the book. So many people have been coming out and saying that they too have this phobia.

Alexia [00:13:12]:

Did you heal this phobia or do you still have it today?

Lauren [00:13:15]:

It’s in between, and I say that’s true for all of anxiety. It’s rare that we ever make it go completely away. Will I ever be that person that’s out holding somebody’s hair back at a bar probably not, but I am able to withstand it. Where I was able to even get pregnant because my phobia was so bad. At one point, I felt like I would never be able to have kids because the idea of pregnancy and morning sickness scared me so bad, and kids throwing up, that scared me so bad. And if you don’t experience this phobia, I realised this can sound like, ridiculous. Someone could be hearing this and being like, get over it. But phobias are so instinctual and there’s such a deep rooted fear.

Lauren [00:14:01]:

Logically, I could say, yeah, this is ridiculous. But on a biological level, I really felt endangered. So I did a lot of therapy. I did a lot of work to get to a place where I could be pregnant. I did, in fact, throw up during the pregnancy only once, but I got through it. A lot of exposure and response prevention therapy was really helpful for me. And my son has even thrown up on me since he’s been born, and I’ve been able to handle it. So I think that’s a big win.

Alexia [00:14:28]:

You are totally winning it. You are totally nailing motherhood there. Brilliant. Brilliant. Let’s dive into anxiety, because obviously I would imagine that the fear of vomit as well as any other anxieties that you had, would have really contributed to the anxiety that you were feeling. Any fears around birth and thinking about pregnancy? Talk to me a little bit about how that anxiety was for you and how you manage that.

Lauren [00:14:50]:

Well, like with all things with anxiety, we see the anticipatory anxiety is so much worse than the actual reality of it. The fear of what could happen was so much worse than what actually did happen, right? Like, when I did actually throw up, I remember saying to myself while it was happening, literally a mantra out loud, I’m okay, I’m okay. And after the fact, I was like, that wasn’t fun, but my world didn’t end. I didn’t die. It’s the same thing with panic, right? People have panic attacks, and they feel in the moment like they’re going to die, but no one has actually died of a panic attack. I try and remind myself of that and my clients of that, of, like, the fear of what could be is often so much worse than the reality of what is. And I tried to really remember that during the pregnancy. Like, I’m strong, I’m capable, I can live with anxiety.

Lauren [00:15:44]:

My big thing is I don’t want anxiety to determine the outcome of my life. And if I didn’t have kids, knowing that that’s a value that I’ve had for myself, if I didn’t make that choice, I knew it would have been because I was avoiding anxiety, and that’s what I didn’t want to happen. It’s fine if you don’t have kids for other reasons, right? But I think it’s really important that we don’t let anxiety call the shots on our life.

Alexia [00:16:07]:

Yeah, I totally agree. And that’s exactly what I say in terms of fear, don’t make that decision from a place of fear. Heal that so that you can make a decision about having kids from a place that is from a good place, from your heart, not from fear or anxiety. So I think that you can live with the decision like that in a way that you can’t. I think from anxiety or fear, it’s much more difficult as regret and guilt and then it suddenly becomes worse. Right? It just kind of becomes a situation that can be difficult for people to live with long term.

Lauren [00:16:37]:

Oh, I was just going to say, like you mentioned that regret piece and that’s everything right there. We have to ask ourselves, when I end my life and I look back, will I have any regrets? And if the answer is yes, then we know that the anxiety is probably really getting in the way there.

Alexia [00:16:54]:

Yeah, and absolutely no. I love that you picked that out. So your book is really about the Generation Z and how anxiety plays out for them. So I’m really interested in what does that look like and how is it different, maybe to the anxiety that maybe different generations are experiencing? I mean, is it completely different? Is it just a shade different? I don’t know. I’d love for you to shed some light on that.

Lauren [00:17:19]:

Yeah, absolutely. And the book is written a millennial and a Gen Z guide because we are really seeing that anxiety does look different for millennials and Gen Z and I did a lot of research into why exactly that know, you look at something like the Generational Power Index and you ask people what has been defining generationally for you? Most generations, at least here in the United States, will tell you September 11 for us was like a Hallmark moment. But there’s been so many things since then, one thing after another. Climate change, gun violence. I mean, the UK just came out and said that the US. Is an unsafe place to travel to. Right? I mean, there’s just so much going on in our world with social media, the inundation of news, the war in Ukraine. You start to see people feeling helpless and hopeless.

Lauren [00:18:09]:

And when you put those two things together, it’s a recipe for feeling anxious and left unchecked, a recipe for feeling depressed over time. So that’s why I felt like I’ve got to write this book right now. Because we are seeing anxiety go through the roof for folks. And people are either having an avoidance reaction of I just want to put my head in the sand and ignore everything because it’s too much, but then the problems continue or they’re almost over preparing and they’re not able to live in the present moment of their life because they may be engaging in all kinds of compulsive behaviours. My hope is that people, even given everything going on in the world, can still live life in alignment for them, even with that anxiety present.

Alexia [00:18:53]:

And so when they are experiencing the anxiety, how does that play out in someone that is quite young, really? I know that mental health doesn’t discriminate by age, but I’m just wondering when I think about maybe I think I was a really hot mess, actually when I was young, and I was probably wrestling with loads of anxiety and I didn’t realise it. Okay, so maybe when I was that age, 1020 years ago that we were all maybe I was just surrounded by loads of anxious people and I wasn’t able to tell. Maybe it really is quite a big significantly different now, and there’s a larger proportion of people who are suffering from anxiety. And I think also because now we’re talking about mental health and now we’re okay to talk about our wounds and our parents and we’re going to therapy now. It’s kind of something where people are more willing to talk about. Maybe we’re just more aware of it. I don’t know. But I’m just interested in how this anxiety piece looks among that generation and how it kind of plays out in the culture among them and their peers.

Lauren [00:19:53]:

Well, I think that’s a big part of the problem, is that we’re also seeing this loneliness epidemic happen, right? And I do think generationally, that’s a big difference. You look at what was happening during World War II, right? A lot of people will say, well, that time, how were people not more anxious then than now? That was a horrible time in history. But people had more community back then. People knew who their neighbours were. They were closer with their families. Now people tend to really live in way more isolation. They don’t know who their neighbours are. They don’t say hi to the person at the grocery store.

Lauren [00:20:28]:

We don’t know who we can trust anymore. We’ve lost our ability to have meaningful relationships with people where we’re seeing social anxiety go through the roof, right? It’s kind of a joke. If a Gen Z gets a voicemail, that ‘s like prime ten, like an anxious reaction, right? So we’re losing our social muscles. This happens. We naturally see anxiety go up because we feel isolated and scared in the world. Who do I have to turn to for support? Who can I share this with? Yes, I can pay a therapist and talk about it with them. That’s great. But there’s also a sadness, right, that maybe I can’t talk to my friend about it or my parents about it.

Lauren [00:21:08]:

People are spending so much more time on their phones than actual face to face connection. And our brains are literally starved neurologically for those deep connections. I think that’s a huge part of why these two generations, millennial and Gen Z, are more anxious than ever because they’re doing this alone.

Alexia [00:21:26]:

And also now we’re hearing that AI is now going to be we’re going to get therapists, AI therapists. And you just think, hang on a minute, this is not going in the right direction at all. Because it’s that human connection that we crave, that we need as mums. Everybody listening to the show, I would imagine, is aware of this, but a baby needs to be held. If a baby is not held in its first few weeks, it will die. It needs that loving connection. That is a thing that we all humans need. Doesn’t stop when you stop being a baby, you continue to need that human connection.

Alexia [00:21:56]:

And so this kind of stuck to the phone, only engaging through an app, only messaging through apps, not meeting up. Even when they do meet up, they’re all on their phones together. I just had all my family around and they were just sitting in the same room just on phones. You’re like, what are you doing? It’s really difficult. And then also I’m hearing colleagues and friends that are saying, when we have some young people starting, we’ve got to train them on how to answer a telephone, which, again, reinforces that sense of this difficulty with social connection. So where’s the starting point?

Lauren [00:22:26]:

Well, we mentioned exposure and response therapy. And honestly, that’s the best treatment for something like this is to actually practise this. I’m a big behaviourist as a psychologist, it’s great to work on your mindset, but the brain has to behaviorally see that we’re capable of these things that make us uncomfortable. So, yes, leaving a voicemail on the phone right. Or asking a friend out to dinner or lunch and having a rule, we’re not going to pull our phones out. Right. The more we can have that eye contact, that face to face, and even talking to a stranger, right? I just read a study the other day that interacting with strangers is so good for our brain health. And actually those interactions tend to go way better than we expect they will.

Lauren [00:23:10]:

But we just need to build more community. And if that’s even setting a goal of, like, today I’m going to smile at someone, or today I’m going to ask the Grocer how they’re doing, even though that makes me feel like I’m going to crawl out of my skin. We start to have those corrective experiences to see, like, oh, either somebody was friendly back to me or maybe it was a neutral interaction, but going to get into a fight with someone when we’re kind and nice to someone, right? We have to practise these things more. And I think older generations can be a part of that too, by really asking young adults like, hey, how’s it going? What’s going on for you today? Right. And really trying to help pull Gen Z and Millennial out so that they’re engaging more. Because we know that mentorships across generations is huge, and that’s not really happening either.

Alexia [00:23:59]:

And so how does this anxiety then feed into those that may be thinking about planning a family or thinking about becoming parents. Because you mentioned some things that are happening in society that are really kind of quite terrifying where you kind of spend too long thinking about them. And of course, we’ve all been through that collective traumatic experience that is COVID whether it’s lockdown the isolation that that brought on, but also that did in some areas foster some sense of community. I know in some areas in the UK, everyone was out clapping at night and they got to know their neighbours and they were chatting on the fence and there was a little bit of community that started kind of building up. Certainly where I was, we got to know our neighbours a lot more. So I think it’s a mixed bag. But for the most part, I think a lot of people felt the isolation, the disconnection from family, the fear of that whole situation that played out. But like you said, there’s the climate change narrative that a lot of women that I’m in contact with are saying, well, I don’t know if it’s right that I should bring a child into the world.

Alexia [00:24:54]:

This is what’s making me think twice. Then you’ve got the community. We know that it takes a village to raise a family and there isn’t a village. So it’s hard work. People aren’t with their families anymore, they’ve moved away. So how does this anxiety in the work that you’ve done, how does that play out with those that are planning families or thinking about wanting a family?

Lauren [00:25:13]:

Well, and that’s spot on. We see right now that about 40% of young adults are saying I don’t want to have kids because of the anxiety around things like climate change and things like that. And you hear of a lot of drinks, right? Double income, no kids. That’s kind of a name that we have here in the States for people who want to make that choice. I really come back to values here. What are your personal values? If a personal value is I want to bring someone into this world and teach them how to be a citizen that makes a difference. I want to help teach someone, learn how to grow, then if that’s a value for you, how can we help you reason with the anxiety that comes from that? And I often will say values induction is not about pain reduction. A lot of times we want to make choices because we don’t want to feel pain, we don’t want to feel uncomfortable.

Lauren [00:26:04]:

There’s a lot of things about pregnancy, having a child that include pain, that include discomfort. And if we’re so set on just being comfortable all the time, why would anyone have kids, right? But are there things that come out of it that are so meaningful to you that you want to build this family that is going to hopefully help contribute to the. World, right, make things better, then I think that’s something we have to be willing to sit with that discomfort because there’s so much good that comes out of it. I think that’s something that’s really important for us to hold in the conversation of all of this. It’s not about reducing our pain, it’s about inducing the values there. It’s not an easy call, I totally want to acknowledge that. But at the same time, I think we need more people being a part of the solution than the problem.

Alexia [00:26:51]:

I think the avoidance of discomfort. I grew up before phones. I’m giving away my age now, obviously. But I think now we’ve been very used to having immediate gratification, things being very easy. Smart apps, smartphones are smart. They are smart everywhere and really having this convenience I’m going to order it now and if it’s not here by 08:00 tonight, then I’m not ordering from them again. This idea is like I’ve now moved to rural France, so if I order off Amazon, I’m lucky to get it within four days. So the idea of getting it later that day, which was my old reality, is like so I’ve had a bit of a kind of wake up call on that.

Alexia [00:27:25]:

But the sense of community and actually when there’s other things that are able to take hold and to be nurtured, which are meaningful connections and being within a natural environment, some of those things are really I’m really recognizing now how important they are for me. When I was disconnected from all of that, I kind of didn’t realise how much I was missing kind of thing. This convenience thing, we kind of if it’s too hard work, I’m not going to go into town because that’s a pain. I’m going to have to park the car and I’ll stand in a queue and if I’ve got what I want, I’m going to go to another one. Oh my goodness. All this drama, this hard work, it’s easy to do it without. We’re now kind of not even, can’t even handle hard work or an effort. And so even things that take effort, that isn’t really difficult per se.

Alexia [00:28:11]:

It’s just time.

Lauren [00:28:12]:

It’s so true. And we have more free time than we ever have historically before, but it doesn’t feel like that to people. We don’t want to be uncomfortable. So that constant like go, go, that unwillingness to sit in any kind of inconvenience is definitely impacting our brain on a neurological level. And I would argue it’s even affecting things like diagnosis rates of ADHD, an amazing book, Stolen, focused by Johann Hari, talks about as we’re seeing such a surge in social media and just this instantaneousness, yes, we’re having difficulty concentrating, but it’s being diagnosed as ADHD. When could it actually be that our environment is just so over stimulating and so.

Alexia [00:28:55]:

Fast paced about an inability to stay with something a little bit longer? So some of them have moved to France now so their approach to films, for example, is a lot slower. They’ll really kind of labour the point to where western, Hollywood movies, that kind of thing, it’s like there’s no hanging about, and they won’t allow that. Now, working with 32nd, 22nd reels on Instagram, this is kind of like the TikTok generation where if it’s not funny within 15 seconds, they’re onto the next one, then yes, goodness. How can they sit and read a book or even kind of move past that period where something might feel uncomfortable to sit with discomfort long enough to kind make it through the points? When you have a moment that might feel a little bit discomfort, uncomfortable at first, where those of us that maybe have been used to that, you kind of realise that that’s only last the beginning of it. And then you sit with it and you kind of ride through that, and then you’re like, oh, no, actually, I’m okay. But if you can’t sit through that first bit, you shy away from it every time, and you never learn that actually you can handle discomfort. It’s fine. And actually, it’s nothing to be afraid of.

Alexia [00:29:58]:

Actually, it makes you feel good. That’s where you get your confidence from sometimes is going through a lot of those uncomfortable experiences and knowing, hey, throw anything at me. I can deal with it. How can we teach people to kind of maybe live with discomfort, which I feel is maybe the early signs of anxiety developing. It’s the beginning of it, potentially. What do you think?

Lauren [00:30:16]:

I think mindfulness is huge. I really do. We are losing this ability where I’ve even had clients, we’ll be a minute into a mindfulness session, and they will interrupt and say, this is too hard. It feels really hard to just sit with ourselves. And mindfulness is not about feeling relaxed. It’s actually about learning how to just be in our bodies. So anything that kind of requires you to sit with it, whether it’s going to an exercise class, right, where socially it might be kind of weird if 20 minutes in, you just walk out of the yoga studio, but where there’s some social scripts of like, okay, I got to hang in there with this. That’s teaching us how to really sustain our attention and stay with and in turn, learn how to sit with discomfort.

Lauren [00:30:59]:

We’ve got to practise that. Even a little bit of a silly exercise, but a good way to harness this a little bit. Let’s say you have an itch on your face and you really want to scratch your nose. A lot of times we’ll just do it right away, right? But mindfulness would be, okay, can I sit with that discomfort of like, oh, I really want to. Itch my nose, but can I hold this? And that’s just a simple exercise that kind of elucidates the example of this, of learning how to sit in that discomfort and seeing that we can handle it.

Alexia [00:31:30]:

And so what other things can they do? Because it sounds to me like really maybe to help this generation, maybe better cope is these little exercises like the one you’ve just shown us now that’s very simple and really easy to do. I know I’ve done that loads in just, in meetings at work where you’re like, oh, I can’t. Is it really something? Are you really asking them and saying to them, you’ve got to kind of take this on. This is for you to own and to kind of figure out and fix yourself. That feels like a really mean thing to say. But also you have got to take responsibility for your own mental health, your own emotional well being and notice when things are starting to unravel and take action. At one end, it’s me sounding super mean, like, well, you got to own your stuff and crack on and sort it out. Which obviously isn’t very empathetic and helpful.

Alexia [00:32:21]:

But also there’s a part of that where you do need to just kind of throw a pair and just find the help. Go and find the resources, go and find a therapist, go and find the support, make some go and do the things. Where do you sit on that? Do I sound super mean here or Is it

Lauren [00:32:36]:

I really like this idea. I write about this in the book called Empowered Acceptance and it’s really taking this both and approach. Like we have to accept and acknowledge the realities of this world, that life is really hard and scary. It’s not about gaslighting ourselves and saying like it’s not that bad. No, sometimes it is that bad and it does really feel hard accepting that, not avoiding that and being empowered too. Still taking action, right? Acceptance is not about apathy and just throwing our hands up and saying, well, I guess we’re all screwed, right? It’s saying, no, what can I do in my own life to take action? And what can I do to be a part of the solution? With climate change, for example, versus just standing on the sidelines, shaking my boots kind of thing, you have to be a part of the solution in that sense. On an individual level, I’m a huge advocate for holistic healing. Obviously, I’m a therapist, I’m a big fan of therapy.

Lauren [00:33:33]:

But I really think we’ve got to look at so many forms of healing, whether it’s acupuncture, whether it’s nutrition and the food we put into our body. I mean, the research on the gut brain connection and how that impacts anxiety with the foods we’re eating, that’s something that we can take action with. So it’s really looking at a lot of different avenues and seeing what works well for each individual person and putting in the time to do that that’s well worth the effort instead of just checking the boxes on all the other things on our to-do list.

Alexia [00:34:06]:

I think one of the holistic healing points are really important, I think. And I think when for some people going in the way I see it’s, like sometimes your mental health or emotional well being, let’s call that, that’s maybe the most pressing challenge that you’re facing. And so you could go in through the front door and deal with that head on, or you can maybe sneak in through the garden and maybe just do some exercise and maybe start running or doing something that’s going to build your physical strength. The nutrition, another back garden route where you can start doing things from the edges and then that builds up your overall health in other ways that then can give you the strength to then think, actually, I think I can tackle the front door now. Whereas without those things, maybe you kind of felt that was a bit too much. Whereas if you take the back door, you can still help the emotional well being through your nutrition, through the exercise, but it’s just doing it in a slightly roundabout way that’s still helpful.

Lauren [00:35:00]:

I love that metaphor. That was so cool. I’m going to use that with clients. That’s beautiful.

Alexia [00:35:07]:

Yeah. I think that can really help whether they haven’t got the emotional strength, because I think tackling anxiety does require you with the work I do around getting helping people to get rid of their phobias. With my approach, you have to eyeball the phobia, have to eyeball the fear. And that takes a lot of guts, though, to do that. A lot of people can’t, that’s too difficult for them to do. It is because of maybe the trauma, whatever they’ve gone through. And so to help those people still bring about a transformation, maybe the gentle approach is what works best for them because they can take it easier and this is where I use the back. But the garden approach where you can build up strength in other ways so that you can then come back to the Phobia and then deal with that once you’ve got more emotional strength within you to be able to deal with that totally well.

Lauren [00:35:50]:

And I always love to have an anxiety hierarchy with clients and myself of where am I at in terms of how anxiety poking this is for me, I always say, and the research shows the sweet spot is like a four to six. So if you’re like at a four to six range, in terms of a scale of one to ten, that tells us like, okay, this is a good challenge, let’s go for it. But if it’s like a seven to ten for you of like, this is going to be too much for me to face this right now. We’ve got to honour that, right? It’s not always just about pushing through because sometimes that can retraumatize or make the anxiety worse for someone, actually.

Alexia [00:36:25]:

And what about those that maybe are struggling with maybe kids, new kids, newborns are dealing with this kind of.

Lauren [00:36:32]:

Anxiety, the existential anxiety, I think, around kids. I really feel that like a new anxiety for the first time of like what happens if something happens to my spouse or something like that, right? It can trigger all kinds of anxieties. I like to use what’s called the four DS. This is from one of my best professors, Dr. Henderson. So this is helpful for parents listening. Some cues that maybe the anxiety is next level and might benefit from some help is if you’re noticing any kind of distress where you yourself are like, I’m worried about how worried I am. This doesn’t seem like my normal pace.

Lauren [00:37:06]:

And if there’s deviance from your norm right. If you’re noticing this isn’t normal for me or when I’m looking at my peer group and other parents, I’m not hearing them endorse the same level of worrying or checking behaviour. They’re not checking their infants multiple times in the night to see if they’re breathing okay. What could be going on there? There’s any kind of dysfunction if you’re not able to keep up with the things in your life, if you’re not able to go to the paediatrician appointment or maybe go to your exercise routine, right. Because you feel like I can’t keep up with my life. And lastly, if there’s any kind of danger and we have to normalise this last point, if you yourself are feeling unsafe, if you’re having thoughts of I just wish I wasn’t alive for this right now, or if I could just go to sleep and never wake up. Or if you’re feeling danger towards others, those are all signs that it would be good to get some support for those symptoms. And we got to normalise all of that because postpartum anxiety is actually more common than postpartum depression.

Alexia [00:38:07]:

I think prenatal anxiety isn’t talked about enough as well because prenatal anxiety is huge and we hear a lot about postpartum depression, so we hear a lot about that. But I think those women that suffer extreme anxiety the minute they find out they’re pregnant, a lot of those women possibly have tokophobia and they don’t realise that tocophobia is a thing. No awareness of that. So they’re wrestling with these feelings that they literally don’t understand. And I know that I’ve got clients that suddenly their anxiety just goes off the chart the minute they’re pregnant. The minute baby comes out, everything’s back to normal again. That the carrying of a baby in their body is kind of the stuff that really just explodes the anxiety for them. Just talk a little bit about some prenatal anxiety with work that you do.

Lauren [00:38:47]:

And I’m so glad that you bring that up because it definitely is not talked about enough and a lot of times people do get surprised by that experience. What’s hard is that in any other situation, pretty much you are consenting to the exposure, right? Like when I was doing my exposure therapy for emetophobia. I am choosing to look at pictures of videos of people vomiting. When you’re pregnant, you’re not necessarily choosing whether or not you want to have that exposure. It is happening to you. I remember being pregnant and saying it’s like I’ve gotten on a roller coaster and I can’t get off the ride. And that almost can really have feelings of claustrophobia for people, right. That sense of entrapment.

Lauren [00:39:26]:

So that’s where that mindfulness piece is really key of the distress tolerance of like, I’m feeling uncomfortable in my body right now and that’s okay, it’s not fun, but let me sit through this and sit in this and bring in support too. Whether it’s your partner or someone else in your life, there’d be so many times where I would voice to my partner, I’m feeling kind of panicky right now. Can you sit by me? And I’d like to hold your hand kind of thing, right? And music is huge. I think music can really help us get into another headspace. When my son was born, I had a whole birth playlist and that really affected my mood. So lean into music or whatever engages you from a senses standpoint and that can help you too, when we’re starting to really get in our head with the anxiety.

Alexia [00:40:15]:

Yeah, music is a game changer. Actually, I’m glad you mentioned it because it’s so simple and it’s something that we all have access to readily. Knowing which tunes can really lift you. I’ve got some good tunes, tunes that always get me going and that I love knowing what music that having all of that maybe stored on your phone or make yourself a spotify playlist where you’ve got them to hand really easily. I think it’s creating these little shortcuts so that when you are in a state like that, you can reach for stuff easily. And the one thing that I notice is that when I’m not in a good place, I’ve got loads of tools and things that I use, but when I’m not in place, I forget all of them. You’re in that state and you’re like after something like, oh my God, I could have done this and I could have done this and I’m like, why did I not do any of that? And I feel like I need to have a great big notice up. So it’s saying like, if you’re feeling crap today, do go through this list.

Alexia [00:41:05]:

I’m just thinking of there any little really easy go to like the music, one you just shared.

Lauren [00:41:10]:

We love to help people create like a self care kit and it engages all the senses. So what’s something you can touch? Whether it’s like a little fabric or something that feels nice for you? What’s something you can smell? Aromatherapy is huge and peppermint is especially a good one for anxiety and helps with nausea too. What can you hear? Whether it’s sound with music or a sound machine is really helpful. I love listening to mindfulness guided mindfulness with the Calm app and I believe maybe you’ll know better than I, but there’s a hypnobirthing app that got me through my pregnancy. So everybody should download it. I want to say it’s called Calm Birth. That is so, so good. And then your other senses, what am I forgetting? A sight? What is something visually that’s great for you? Whether it’s a picture of your family that you have in this box or maybe a quote that you like to read, taste. Whether it’s peppermint candy, a piece of gum, or sour candy helps with anxiety.

Lauren [00:42:07]:

So have it all in a little box, your self care, soothing box. And that can be some nice things to turn to.

Alexia [00:42:13]:

Yeah, but maybe not the bottle of wine for your taste because that might.

Lauren [00:42:15]:

Not be a good.

Alexia [00:42:18]:

I know a lot of new mothers do turn to that. I joke. But actually the glass of wine is and also drinking is such a certainly within British culture, it’s such an accepted if you suddenly announce that you’re not drinking anymore, you’ve got to deal with a lot of, kind of friction from people going, what are you doing? Why look at you not being fun anymore. This kind of like there’s a lot of culture around drinking, but also when you have that, there’s an association, a very powerful association, that when you take that first sip of wine, it just feels like you’re and when you’ve had kids screaming around all day. There is a huge thing with mums getting together, having wine, and then before they know it, they’re drinking wine every night and maybe husband’s away or he’s working late and they’re drinking half a bottle a night, maybe a bottle a night. And it can kind of escalate very rapidly, I think, with dealing with that new mum anxiety and the stress of navigating that journey. I don’t know. Do you want to talk to that?

Lauren [00:43:16]:

No doubt about it. That is so true. And one thing that I think can be helpful in terms of deciding whether or not to drink, we see that alcohol is really inflammatory and really contributes to the increase of anxiety. If you even start to test it out of like, how do I feel the next day after I drink? A lot of people will tell you, I actually noticed a spike up in my anxiety. It creates this negative feedback loop. And the other piece too is we know that alcohol affects not just the first night of sleep, but the second night of sleep. And if you’re drinking every other day, your sleep cycle is never getting a chance to recalibrate. And sleep is a huge part of anxiety and depression as well.

Lauren [00:44:00]:

That to me is like enough of a buy-in of like, oh yes, I don’t want that increase in anxiety any more than is already happening in my body. And if alcohol is something I can do to reduce fat by cutting back on the inflammation, then that’s something that I think can be good. And it’s nice to see, I’m seeing a lot more like a mocktail culture of more fun drinks that don’t have to have the alcohol in it. So we’re still getting the culture and community of drinking something together, but not having to have alcohol in it.

Alexia [00:44:32]:

Yeah. So, yeah, cutting back on alcohol is really another little thing you can do to start reducing the anxiety that you’re feeling. Yes, I love that. I’m just going to recap. What I’ve remembered is you’ve got your self care kit, you’ve got your trying to sit through the discomfort moments, like the itchy nose thing. That was a really good one. Also choosing some tracks or things that you can sit on, like meditation, like mindfulness tracks, whatever’s going to work for you, do it for you. While we’re on tracks.

Alexia [00:44:59]:

I really like mantras. I really got into an artist called David Permel and she’s got some really wonderful mantras. They’re often played at yoga classes. She’s got that kind of music going on. But just sitting with some of these, I found that because there was a vocal that I could hang on to and maybe learn, but because it was Sanskrit, I never really knew what they were, so but it was a really useful hook for my mind to just kind of follow it. And I found those very, very calming. And then what else have you mentioned? Self care kit.

Lauren [00:45:23]:

I think that covers it. Well, maybe give acupuncture a try. But yeah, nutrition is really big for people. And you mentioned, now, there was a study that just came out of Australia that they found that exercise was more effective than therapy and psychiatric medication. So not great for my mean, obviously therapy is helpful, but exercise is huge. So I always think that’s a really good entry point for folks. If you can get out for a 20 minute walk, we see changes in the brain even at just that level. So it’s absolutely worth it.

Alexia [00:45:57]:

Brilliant. Well, Lauren, thank you so much for sharing all your expertise on anxiety. Now, if people want to find out more about you, your book, where can they track you down? And also your socials. I mean, you’re prolific on lots of platforms, so tell us where we can find you.

Lauren [00:46:10]:

Well, generation anxiety comes up. September 19 is the official day. I’m so excited because we have a special publisher with Watkins that’s doing specifically UK and the whole Commonwealth. You can get on Amazon or wherever you like to buy your books. You can follow along on Instagram and TikTok. I love doing a good mental health meme, and then I speak internationally with teams. So if your company really wants to bring this conversation about anxiety, please join us. I would love to be a part of that conversation with your group.

Alexia [00:46:40]:

Thank you. Thank you so much, Lauren, for joining me on the Fear Free Childbirth podcast.

Lauren [00:46:45]:

Thank you, Alexia. Be well.

Alexia Leachman
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