Anxiety in Children: Interview with Laura Morton

Reading: Anxious Nation: Laura Morton on Tackling Anxiety in Children and Finding Hope

Covey Podcast

Anxious Nation: Laura Morton on Tackling Anxiety in Children and Finding Hope

with Laura Morton

“Anxiety is like a cult leader in the home—it’s controlling and demands attention, but understanding it helps break its power.” – Laura Morton.

In this compelling episode of the Reinvent Yourself Podcast, host Lesley Jane Seymour sits down with Laura Morton, co-director and producer of the award-winning documentary “Anxious Nation.” Morton, a bestselling author and mental health advocate, shares her deeply personal journey of navigating her daughter’s anxiety and how it inspired her to create a film that offers hope and strategies to families dealing with similar issues. This conversation is a must-listen for any parent dealing with anxious children, providing insights, encouragement, and practical advice.

LJS: So, Laura, I’m so excited to have you on the podcast. I love the film. I can’t wait for everybody to see it, and I want you to tell your reinvention story. I’m thrilled to have you here.

LM: Lesley, thank you so much. I was really excited when we connected, and your enthusiasm for Anxious Nation means the world to us. So thank you.

LJS: I know. I think every mother I know is anxious about their kids, has anxious kids. I think we live in a world of anxiety. I think social media creates horrible anxiety. Nobody knows how to use it. Nobody knows how to talk about it, nobody knows how to confront it. and I think bringing the topic up, I think every mother and father, hopefully, if you’re listening, who has a child of any age, needs to watch the film, because it is a problem that, I mean, you know, my daughter and my son were both very anxious kids and not over the top like you described, but, there were moments where… I have a daughter who’s an overachiever, and I try to tell her, when she’s telling me she’s having a lot of anxiety, I’m like, you know, you could meditate, oh, mother, stop. Blah, blah, blah. But there are, you know, there are techniques and there are things that we can do. But let’s start with your background briefly. So people who are listening can understand what kind of personal reinvention you have done, and how you got the film built.

LM: Absolutely. So, I grew up in Detroit, in suburban Detroit. And, you know, if you would ask me when I graduated high school, you know, what I would be doing, I really believed that I was on a path to go to law school and maybe go that path and that route. I went to Michigan state for a year and transferred to the University of Colorado, which was a really great and fun place to go to school. I graduated and I went to Paris for the summer, and [it] was tough.

LJS: That’s a hard knock life, right?

LM: Well, it really was sort of a bohemian, ah, existence in Paris. Although I every now and then could scrounge up enough money to buy fresh flowers in the market and occasionally a good bottle of champagne. But, yeah, … I was scheduled to start law school in the fall, and I didn’t want to start law school. It just wasn’t really what I wanted to do. So I ended up staying in Paris for a year and really just kind of thought, what is it that you want? And when I went back to Detroit, I was saddled with this notion of, oh, I’ve got to get a job. I tried to become a stockbroker. I couldn’t pass my series seven, and so I was in Paine Webber, if you remember that company. I was in their training program, and they pretty much said, if you can’t pass your series seven, you can’t work for us. So I became a headhunter. And because in those days, if you weren’t going off to graduate school or getting a master’s degree in something, then you could make a good living as a headhunter or a stockbroker or something along those lines. So I very quickly rose up in that field and started my own company, and I specialized in executive level retail placement. So store managers and above. And while I was running that company, I made a videotape on how to interview for a job. And then the fact that I’m calling it a video is how long ago this was. And, the idea was the people that I had working for me, they were spending a lot of time going through the same material over and over and over because the executives that we were placing hadn’t really interviewed for a job. They had just been bumped up the ladder. So we needed to refresh their memory. And so finally, I said, let’s just put it on video. We’ll give it to them, and it’ll be less time that you have to take to go through this and better for them because they can watch it and learn from it. Well, I ended up selling Chrysler 75,000 copies of that tape for their college promotions division.

LJS: So that was your first movie?

LM: That was my first movie. And honestly, it was such a shock to me. but I, you know, I thought, wow, this is a fun way to make a living. So I, as I like to say, packed up the truck and moved to Beverly [Hills]. I mean, I literally, you know, moved to Los Angeles and thought, I want to take a whack at making, you know, shows and programs. And I slowly phased out of being a headhunter and slowly phased in to creating what is known as special interest programming. I pioneered the celebrity exercise video market, which is how I met our mutual friend, Joan Lunden. Oh, yes. Yeah. And I did videos with all sorts of big celebrities, and then I was doing other things and music videos and specials and one offs, and, you know, it was a great way to make a living. And, circling back to Joan very quickly, after we finished shooting her exercise video, she was the host of Good Morning America at the time, and she had 20 million viewers a week. And she had just gone through a high profile divorce, and she was 40 and had three kids, and I thought she represented a huge demographic. And I said to her, you should write a book. Like, I think this video is great. Like, she lost a lot of weight. She looked fabulous. And I, you know, I said, I really think you should write a book. And she said, you should do it with me. And I’d never written a book before. But I learned a long time ago in business that if you have an opportunity, say yes and figure it out.

LJS: Same thing happened. Yes.

LM: Yeah. And that’s exactly what I did. And I wrote a book with Joan that was on the New York Times bestseller list for 20 plus weeks.

LJS: Wow.

LM: And then we did a second book, same thing. And then I started spreading out and working with all sorts of other celebrities, from Justin Bieber to the Jonas Brothers to Jennifer Hudson to many of the people you see behind me, the beautiful Susan Lucci. And I’ve been doing this now for many, many years. And so I’m a storyteller by trade, and if you ask me what I do, I will tell you I’m a storyteller.

Most anxious families wait two to eight years from onset of symptoms to seek help

LJS: Okay, so then let’s talk about how you got to Anxious Nation. How did you decide to do that and why?

LM: Yeah, thank you for asking that question, because it really is the most important, aside from becoming a parent, it’s the most important work that I’ve ever done. I am a single mom by choice. I am raising my daughter on my own. and I felt like I was failing miserably as a parent. And my daughter started showing signs of something, and I’m air quoting that. Right. When she was around three years old, I didn’t recognize what that was. I took her to every doctor and specialist and therapist, and it took seven years. So from the time she was three to ten, for somebody to say to me, your daughter has anxiety.

LJS: Oh, geez.

LM: And it was everything except, right? And most of the doctors, all the doctors until that doctor, were only looking at her physical health. They weren’t looking at her emotional well being. They weren’t. Even the therapists I took her to really weren’t identifying it because she was so young. And this, you know, my daughter’s 16, so this was a while ago. And I think at the time, you know, pediatricians weren’t really assessing mental health, right? They’re barely doing it now, but they’re starting to correct. And so my daughter, because I’m a single mom, I had a donor, somebody I didn’t know. So there was a 50% equation that I had not a lot of background on, right? So I could look at my daughter’s hands and go, well, those are my hands. But I would look at her feet and go, definitely not my feet. But I couldn’t, you know, that was all I knew. So I didn’t really know if my donor struggled with anxiety. Was there a history of mental health? [Were] there issues? So, I had a little bit of a challenge there. But I will tell you that most families, and this is an amazing statistic that we actually talk about in an Anxious Nation, most families wait two to eight years from the onset of symptoms to seek help. So they think it’s a phase, right? They think they’ll outgrow it. It’s a temper tantrum, whatever it is. And so because parents in general are not recognizing the signs of any kind of mental health disorder in a young [person].

LJS: Child, even older, even older, we don’t recognize, we’re not educated in the mental health scape. Unless you’ve done a lot yourself, you don’t know that possibility.

LM: And this generation, the Gen Z’s, really, are being raised by a generation of parents who did not cope with their own issues, right? They didn’t know, again, they were of that generation where their parents may or may not have gotten them the right help. So they’re struggling. And in that effort, to not want their kids to feel like they do, they’re stepping in and there’s problem solving for them. And they’re, you know, they’re, they’re not teaching them resilience. They’re not teaching them how to cope and maneuver through any kind of challenges. And we’re seeing a lot of parenting.

LJS: Yeah, parenting generation. Yeah. It’s going to be interesting to see what our kids do if our kids are going to be like, hey, go outside and ring the bell at five.

LM: Are they going to be nice?

LJS: You know, I have no idea. I have no idea.

LM: I have to tell you, Lesley, I actually believe that if we have a generation right now, and we’re living in a world with five generations that are all trying to manage together. If Gen Z, I think Gen Zs have the best opportunity to turn the tide, and I’ll tell you why. I think they’re so open to talking about how they’re feeling. They talk about their mental health issues. They want help, they’re seeking help. They want, you know, they have other things that are barriers and, you know, stand in their way. But I really believe that they’ve normalized it where no other generation before them considered it normal.

LJS: Yeah, I agree with you. They’re much more open, I think. Yeah. So what happened? So when you finally got this diagnosis, then what happened? And how did that change your life?

LM: And, well, it was a game changer, but once I got that diagnosis, I, you know, I thought, okay, well, now at least we know, like, when you know what you’re dealing with, you know how to create a plan to deal with it. Right. And so once we had that diagnosis, it gave me a lot of insight into things perhaps that I was doing that were adding to her anxiety unintentionally. 

LJS: Wow.

LM: Yes.

LJS: You’re not trying to. Right.

LM: I really was never trying to make her more anxious, but I was. Right.  But I didn’t know that. So it gave me the opportunity to tackle it systemically. My actions, her actions. How could we work together as a unit? And so, one day, I mean, I really was just sitting at my desk one day feeling utterly defeated. And I just, you know, thought, I wonder if anybody else is going through this. This was in 2018, and we were not talking about mental health like we do today. And so I put a line, one line on Facebook, kids in anxiety. Who’s dealing with it? Because I wanted to know in my Facebook community, I wanted to know, was anybody else going through this? It seems ridiculous to even ask that today because, of course, we’re all going through it, and we were in 2018, but the difference was we weren’t talking about it. And so when I put that post on my Facebook page, it’s like it ripped the shroud of shame away and allowed other people to talk about it and allowed other people to, you know, like, share their story with me. And people that I knew, people that I socialized with, we never talked. Drives me nuts.

LJS: It drives me so crazy. I had a friend like that, who used to come over to my house when I lived up north, and my kids were younger, and we would talk about, you know, her kid had some drug abuse issues. And I said, you know, there were moments when one of my kids would come home with all these guys, and, you know, there was a lot of pot smoking going on. I was very concerned. And she goes, oh, no one else says that. No one else talks about it. I’m like, well, come talk to me. Because, you know, like, everybody’s going through this, but no, everybody wants to. Especially I found in the sort of suburbs, where people had moved to make this perfect little, you know, it really is, you know, ordinary people. It’s this perfect life, perfect house, perfect lawn, perfect children, perfect job, perfect marriage until the divorce, the job loss. The kid gets, you know, put into drug rehab. It’s like, you have to talk about all this stuff, and that’s been my [experience].

LM: 100%. Ignoring it won’t make it go away. That’s what people, I think, get so concerned about. Particularly if you have a child who has suicidal ideation. I think so many parents think talking about it is triggering as opposed to what it really does is it gives them an outlet, and, you know, it’s so important. And we as parents have to be willing to have the hard conversations, and we can teach our kids to have the hard conversations. And this is, I believe, one of the core problems is that parents are so worried about upsetting the child that they go, I’d rather not have the conversation.

LJS: Right, right.

LM: But the fault, from not having the conversation is exponential.

LJS: Right. And having the conversation is part of diffusing the time bomb that’s in there.

LM: Well, it helps them feel very seen and heard. And so many kids don’t feel that from their families. Right? Or they’re so ashamed that they’re feeling this way that they don’t want to be judged. Kids are so worried that they’re going to let their parents down. And, you know, we, as parents, have to give our children a safe place. Easy to say, not everybody does it, but easy to say: we have to give them a safe place where they don’t feel judged, where they feel accepted and loved, no matter what they want to talk to us about. And that opens the door to having the type of connection that brings strength and resilience and teaches them the tools that they need to be able to work through some of this stuff.

LJS: Right. So talk about what you and your daughter went through. And when you got the diagnosis, what were you able to do?

LM: Well, you know, what happened was, when I put that post on Facebook, I was inundated with not just posts on Facebook, but private messages. And there was one message that came through from a friend and somebody that I know, somebody I grew up with, somebody that I’ve socialized with, who shared with me that his daughter had attempted suicide. None of us knew. And when he shared that with me, I thought, there’s something happening here, and it’s bigger than this, right? It’s bigger than a Facebook post. I actually think it’s bigger than a book. And I think that if I could get families to share their stories and maybe we could make a movie, maybe we could do a documentary about this. Because our country was in crisis in 2018, pre-Covid. The mental health crisis. It’s already an epidemic, right?

LJS: Yeah.

LM: Especially among our youth. And so I thought, you know, I think I can do this. So I thought right there and then, I think I want to make a documentary. I’ve never made a documentary before, but I’m a storyteller, so I knew how to come at it, and I knew to surround myself with the right people, and that is how Anxious Nation was born. It was born out of that post on Facebook, which is ironic, right? Given the impact of social media. It just goes to show you that social media is not all bad, right? And, so what happened with my daughter and I was, once we knew what we were dealing with, we could get the right help. And I had to learn. I had to learn the tools on how to communicate with her and how to have a common language. And, you know, that was the beautiful [part] – like, there was a basketball team of the top experts in anxiety, and our kids, they’re the experts in my film, they are the top experts who talk about this on the daily, right? And so for me, I got to interview all of them. And, every time I did an interview, I walked away feeling like I had gotten so much from just that hour or two conversation. But I also walked away feeling even worse as a parent because it was evident that I was doing so many things wrong. And I thought, so that’s what drove me. Right. If I was feeling that way, I knew other parents could benefit from it. So we decided, when we made this movie, we decided to be in the film because we didn’t want to ask other families to do what we weren’t willing to do ourselves.

LJS: Right. Right.

LM: We’re vulnerable. You’ve seen the movie. My daughter is amazing. It’s raw. It’s real. You know, we show anxiety in real time, and I think by doing that, families can watch Anxious Nation, and they go and they can see, wow, this is happening in our house. So that’s what I’m dealing with. Right. And, you know, what making the film did for us, for my daughter and myself, was two things. One, it did give us a common language. It taught us things like “doing the disorder”, and anxiety is like a cult leader in the home, and, you know, things that were really helpful to us to understand what that control factor was. Because anxiety is very controlling, and when you indulge that, you’re making it stronger. The other thing that it taught me, and this was my biggest takeaway, was that what my daughter was feeling was very real.

LJS: Right? Correct.

LM: Very real. And as parents, sometimes we process things through our very mature and experienced eyes, and, what’s a big deal to our kids is not a big deal to us, but it’s a big deal to them, and it’s how they feel. And I learned to allow my daughter to be exactly who she is and not who I wanted her to be, and that was a game changer for us.

LJS: One thing I would love to go back to is where you were talking about that it might be a genetic thing that you didn’t know about. It can also. It doesn’t have to have a genetic component. I mean, [you might] have a family that has none of this in the family. And the child you have, I mean, it could be genetic, but it’s just… It’s not because somebody else had it. It just could be the recombinant whatever happened with that child, or it could be they’re just super sensitive. So I don’t want anybody to think, oh, well, if it’s not my family, I don’t have this problem.

There are many things happening today that can impact our kids in terms of trauma

LM: Well, I’m so glad you brought this up, because we do talk about the nature versus nurture debate in Anxious Nation. But,  you know, trauma can happen, right? We have kids, you know, that. [Kids] have been through traumatic experiences, whether it’s been at school, I mean, today with, you know, what’s going on with antisemitism, you know, [with] guns. Right. I was just gonna say, you know, we  have a girl who didn’t make it into the film, but she was living an idyllic life with a family who had never dealt with anything, you know, remotely related to any kind of mental health issue. And she was a student at Sandy Hook when the shooting happened.

LJS: Oh, my lord. Oh, my God.

LM: And she… They buried twelve of her friends.

LJS: Oh, for God’s sake.

LM: Her family got very involved in wanting to raise money for the community and, you know, for resources. And so her father decided to run in the Boston marathon.

LJS:  Oh, no. Don’t tell me they had two issues.

LM: Two issues. And so, you know, this is an extreme story, but the fact of the matter is that there are so many things happening today that can impact our kids in terms of trauma. Right. So he was crossing the finish line when the second bomb went off. He’s fine. But the family was right there, and the trauma of that was extraordinary. And her anxiety did not rear its head until she went off to college.

LJS: Yeah, sometimes.

LM: So, you know, sometimes it can be dormant. But Some kids, to your point, are born to be great athletes. Some kids are born to be great, you know, prodigies, whether academically or they play a musical instrument. Some kids are born more sensitive.

LJS: And there must have been a Darwinian reason for that. I always go back to, like, all of us, the reason why we made it this far is there must have been, you know, when the cave happened, there were people who were like, no, no, no. Like, there’s something going on out there. And everybody else is going, yeah, we go out and they get eaten by the, you know, by the dinosaur. But there were anxious people who said, no, no, stay inside like this.

LM: I mean, anxiety is not new. Right. It’s our fight or flight response. It’s not. But it was helpful. It was helpful for somebody. Exactly. You know, so it’s been around since cavemen.

LJS: Right.

LM: You know, what happens, though, is anxiety is the fight or flight response that goes haywire.

LJS: Right.

LM: And, you know, when it becomes unmanageable and when you feel that, the question is, what do you do with it.

LJS: Right.

LM: You know, so that’s like, it’s really important. And so I think you bring up such a good point. It’s really important to know. Look, not everything is anxiety or depression or, you know, a mental health disorder, but don’t discount it either, especially in a young child, because today there’s a lot going on. Our kids are aware of it, whether you realize it or not. They overhear our conversation. So we’re talking about the things that are making us anxious or uneasy, and they can… Who’s not talking about that right now?

LJS: Yeah.

LM: Right. And these kids have lived through Covid, you know, and the long term impact of those years are going. They’re going to show, really. Right. At some point. Right. You know, we know that absenteeism is at an all time high in schools right now.

LJS: I saw that. Yeah.

LM: Ah. I mean, it is at work as well.

LJS: Right.

LM: So parents are also missing work. So the question is, for me, how can we get our arms around this? How can we embrace it? How can we repurpose that energy and use it for good?

LJS: Right. Good question.

LM: Right. And I think that, you know, we see, like, think of elite athletes or think of, you know, we all know, like, great performers. Barbra Streisand is a great example of that. Right. Horrible stage fright, does not like performing.

LJS: Interesting. Right.

LM: And she gets on the stage, she takes that energy, and she pours it into performance. No, that Djokovic is somebody that I’ve worked with. He gets anxiety. You know what he does? He goes out on the tennis court and he takes it out on the ball.

LJS: Yeah.

In Anxious Nation, we show artwork from kids from all over the world

LM: And number one in the world. And so, you know, we see it, and so there are ways to repurpose that. And in Anxious Nation we show artwork, this fabulous artwork in the movie that comes… from kids from all over the world. And art is a wonderful outlet, you know, for capturing your emotions and doing something positive with it. So all the artwork in the movie came from kids from all over the world depicting their emotional state. Right. So not one piece of art in that film was made for the film. And so it just goes to tell you, one, this is global. This isn’t just a problem here in the United States. But two, there are things that you can do that feel good. And you said at the beginning of this interview, you tell your daughter to meditate. Well,  that’s a wonderful way to repurpose that energy and to calm that energy.

LJS: Dance.

LM: Performance, acting, take a walk, connect with nature. All of that has been shown to really help settle those feelings when they become very, very difficult and overbearing in our lives.

LJS: Right.

LM: Hug your dog.

LJS: Animals can help a lot in terms of calming you down. And, I mean, that is why we have, you know, the working animals that actually do. You know, it’s funny, we go upstairs every night, we have a crazy cat who likes to have his belly rubbed every night before bed. And I have a little oura ring, and you can look at the aura ring, and you can see how it calms you down. I go down when I’m rubbing his belly. Not only him, he’s like, you know, conked out totally. But there are things that you can do to relax yourself. You just have to plug yourself into it, and we have to give our kids those tools.

LM: Well, I think recognizing what that feels like when that energy is coming on, because that’s the most important thing to know, is that anxiety is energy.

LJS: Yes. Correct.

LM: So when, you know, when that energy is, when you feel it, however you feel it, because it’s different for everybody. Right. Recognize it, stop for a second, and ask yourself, what does this mean? Will this matter? My daughter has a fabulous thing that she does. She’s almost 16, and she asks herself, would this matter to me in 5 seconds? Yes. Will it matter to me in five minutes? Probably 5 hours, maybe five days, five weeks, five years. Right. And so you got to look at it in, you know, in that totality. And that gives her, just going through that simple exercise, gives her a moment to hit the reset button.

LJS: That’s great.

Laura Morton shares three tips on how to make a documentary

So, if you’re talking to people, you were already in the business of making films, so this was a natural outgrowth for you. But what were the three tips or tricks you would want people to know about, say, getting a documentary made? We do have a lot of writers, we have a lot of creators. We have a lot of film people who listen to the podcast, and they may have one thing they want to do. Maybe it’s not a whole series. What would you say they should take away from our discussion in terms of how, how to?

LM: So, the first thing that I tell everybody is, documentaries are not for the weak. They are very, very difficult. But when the topic is so important that it constitutes a documentary film, it becomes a passion and a drive. And there are so many ways now to make a film and get a film out there that if it’s something that you believe in wholeheartedly, stick with it. You will hit. I have described the experience of making a documentary as like living in a house of mirrors for the last five years.

LJS: Wow.

LM: Because while I’ve done other, you know, types of production work, I never made a documentary film. I was smart enough to bring on Academy award winning director Vanessa Roth and a great production team who had been through this before, but I think that there are so many things that you’ll be challenged with, and you need to be a good problem solver, but you need to 100% stick with it. Know your vision. Be willing to pivot on that vision. We had to pivot when Covid happened. We were in the middle of filming, so, you know, we had to pivot when Covid happened. We ended up sending cameras out to all of our kids and families and let them self record. And that’s some of our best footage, footage I would never have gotten. Right. And so, you know, and our kids, gosh, they’re so used to recording themselves on their phones. Anyway, you know, be creative, be committed, be fully committed to it, and get it out into the world. Make sure your message is being seen and heard. You know, today there are so many platforms you can upload and make the film available for free. You can make the film. We just started the Anxious Nation foundation so that we can make the film available for free [to] lower socioeconomic communities and communities where there are just no resources. Right, right. And so it’s, you know, there are so many ways to get a film out now. You can. You can get it on, you know, platforms like iTunes and Amazon, and you could charge for it. You can build a website and have your own streaming platform. And that’s a really easy way to make the film available. You don’t have to be on Netflix to make it work, correct. Yeah.

LJS: Laura, where can everybody find you and find the film?

LM: So, they can go on to read more about our film, read more about the Anxious Nation Foundation. If you want to watch the film, we are streaming on Amazon or on Apple TV. We’re on Google Play. And, of course, through our website; all those ways that I just mentioned. And people can find me on Instagram @lmortongac. I’d love to hear from you if you’ve watched the film, if you have questions about the film.

If you want to bring the movie to your community and do a community screening, which we have been doing all over the country. We’re doing them with schools, with religious organizations. So if you want to bring this film to your community, we’ll work with you to make that happen. 

We really know, as you know, Lesley, when you watched the film, it’s hard for people to get there, but when they do, they take away so much. And when we do it in community, right. We come together around this. Which is why you do the work that you do.

LJS: Yes. It’s all about community, people. It’s really only about community. That’s all we got left.

LM: And really so you know, it’s not just you, right? You’re not the parents screwing up. We’re all, you know, we’re all struggling with this, right?

LJS: Oh, God, yeah.

LM: You know, and we don’t know what to do. And we’re raising kids at a time and, you know, where their devices and their screen time is absolutely having an impact on them. I don’t believe that’s the only cause of what’s happening here, but there’s certainly great correlation. And I think together we can be stronger. And don’t go through this alone. Talk to your friends. So anyway, yeah. So that’s how we can be found. Reach out through We’d be delighted to hear from you.

LJS: Awesome, Laura, thank you so much. And good luck with the film. I really love it. I hope everybody will see it.

LM: Thank you. Thanks for having me, Lesley. Thanks for that.


Tell us what you think.
Leave your comments below