Worry seems to be an inevitable part of life for most people, as if it’s something we are born with. When we worry, we are living in the past or future rather than the present. We are making negative assumptions that make us feel anxious and out of control.
A survey of almost ten thousand people across the United States found: “With the exception of substance-use disorders, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health diagnosis.”
–The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook for Anxiety (2011)
Some people say they worry about everything, some say they worry about nothing, and some say they only worry about work, or family, or health, or success.
How often do you find yourself worrying? What kinds of things do you worry about?
What value does worrying have for you?
When I ask this question, some of the answers I get are:
“I just can’t help it, it’s in my nature.”
“Worrying helps me stay out of trouble.”
“Worrying keeps me on my toes.”
“Worrying prepares me for unwanted events.”
Add your own reasons here:______________________________________
What are the effects of worrying?
“The list of damage that worry can do, because of the biology of stress, is long and scary. Which means that not worrying more than we have to may be the best thing we can do for our health.”
(Psychology Today, 12/2011)
“Worry makes it harder to focus on reality or think clearly. Chronic worry and the resulting emotional stress can trigger a host of health problems. The problem occurs when the fight or flight response causes the body’s sympathetic nervous system to release stress hormones such as cortisol. These hormones can boost triglycerides (blood fats) that can be used by the body for fuel.” (from Web M.D., accessed August 30, 2018)
Would you like to worry less? How can you deal with stressful situations and keep yourself in control, take charge of your anxiety?
Consider the Serenity Prayer as a guide, even if you’re not religious: God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
The most important factor in taking control of your worry/anxiety is to recognize that these emotions are future based. Anytime you are worried or feeling anxious, you have left the present moment and are focused on the future—or past. Either of these states put you at a disadvantage, because there is nothing tangible you can do about them. The only tangible control we have is what is happening NOW, in the present. In addition, when you are focused on the future, you are assuming events will happen or not happen. You don’t know for sure.
A common example of this is waiting for the results of a medical test. Think about what you put yourself through with your worrying, which is the result of not knowing and feeling helpless. Worrying gives you something to do during the void. For many, it’s an altered form of feeling in control, often a form of magical thinking—imagining the worry will prepare you if the worst does happen.
In actuality, you are putting yourself through a lot of distress about something that may not occur. If the worst does happen, you will still feel upset—so you are putting yourself through suffering twice! If the worst doesn’t happen, you’ve put yourself through stress needlessly!
If you are feeling anxious or upset about something that happened in the past, you have three choices: you can continue to make yourself miserable by dwelling on it; you can let it go (easier said than done, because of the assumptions you make about the effects of the incident on a relationship or other situation); or in some instances you can address it to correct the consequences or feel closure. Write a letter, to yourself or someone else—and don’t send it. Putting your assumptions and feelings in writing is often enough relief to help you let go.
What are some ways to reduce or even eliminate your worry?
- Define the situation that is the cause of your worry.
- Identify what assumptions you are making.
- Identify what feelings you are having such as fear of loss, fear of pain, being out of control, or diminishing your self-esteem. Write down these or other feelings you have.
- Ask yourself: How likely is this to happen? What could I do if it did? Write these down.
- Check out your assumptions with someone who can verify or correct them. If that’s not possible, ask yourself what facts you have to support your assumptions and what evidence do you have that will diminish or eliminate the assumptions.
- What actions can I take now that will help me feel more in control.
- When all else fails, it’s time for healthy denial. You can choose to go into denial by forcing yourself to think about something else, or get engaged in an activity that consumes your attention. This can be doing something creative, athletic, or spending time with someone who is stimulating and positive. This takes practice. I can tell you from personal experience it works if you keep at it.
- Pay attention to how good it feels when you are able to reduce or eliminate the worry. That in itself is a positive reward and reinforcement.
With enough practice, you will find you have more energy, reduce your stress, and have a more positive outlook on life.
I’d be interested in your comments, experiences and questions about worry.
Please feel free to share this with anyone who might find this useful.
You can also check out my previous blogs on my website: ShelliChosak.com