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Generalized Anxiety in Bill Wurtz's "I'm Scared"

Generalized Anxiety in Bill Wurtz's "I'm Scared"

Generalized Anxiety
Bill Wurtz's song, I'm Scared

I always love spaces where psychology, music, and other media intersect. In “I’m Scared,” songwriter/YouTuber Bill Wurtz paints a portrait of generalized anxiety that is both uncannily accurate and deeply funny, complete with a funky baseline and bowling alley-style graphics that won’t quit. Before I talk about the song and its connection to generalized anxiety, please have a listen for yourself!



What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?


Unlike phobias, which are an irrational and intense fear of particular objects or situations, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) involves numerous fears ranging from everyday concerns (paying the bills, school or work performance, interpersonal relationships) to catastrophic events like natural disasters. In GAD, this anxiety feels all-consuming and difficult to control, as it takes time and energy away from the things that we value. As Bill puts it, “I'm scared of the world out there / But it's cold in here.” The interesting thing is that worrying is a very natural and normal experience that, when it serves its purpose, helps us solve problems and make important decisions in our lives. So then what goes awry in GAD? First, people with GAD experience what’s called an attentional bias towards threat, meaning that they are more likely to interpret ambiguous or neutral information as threatening. For example, reading the sentence: “The doctor measured little Sally’s growth,” can be read either as the doctor measuring the child’s height (non-anxious interpretation) or the size of her tumor (anxious interpretation). This means that a greater number of situations are likely to trigger initial anxiety in people with GAD (“Here, there, I’m scared of everywhere / I’m scared of the clothes I wear”), contributing to the feeling that anxiety seems to come out of nowhere. Another distinction is how people with GAD react to their initial worry. Research suggests that, while generalized anxiety is not actually associated problem-solving ability, it is associated with lower self-confidence about one’s ability to solve problems. Because of this, worries in GAD often feel “out of control.” At one point in “I’m Scared,” Bill sings, “Help me understand / Help me formulate a plan / Help me get down from where I’ve been.” Our anxiety often subsides once we feel like we have a plan of how to address the fear and the threat. However, in GAD this sense of a plan does not materialize or does not feel satisfying enough, and the person keeps worrying.


Some interesting research on anxiety suggests that we each employ a stop rule that determines when we switch our focus away from our worries to something else. For example, we keep worrying until (a) we feel like stopping (when negative emotions have subsided), or until (b) we feel we’ve generated as many possibilities as we can. However, in generalized anxiety, these stop rules don’t become triggered, and so the person keeps generating more possibilities and more questions that arise from those possibilities. Comically, in a song all about experiencing a crippling anxiety of everything, Bill also worries, “Am I scared enough?”


What Can I Do About GAD?


If you find yourself relating to the description of anxiety in this post, please know that there are things you can do to help manage the anxiety and keep it from controlling your life. Effective therapies, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can help you find new ways of relating to your anxiety that lessen its impact on you. If you live in Washington state and wonder whether these therapies could work for you, feel free to contact me for a free 15 minute phone consultation to see how I might be able to help you.


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