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We all worry. That is a natural part of life. It is essential for us as humans to have the capacity to worry or experience anxiety. It is part of what keeps us safe. However, some people are plagued by worry so much that they end up suffering major consequences. Some of the consequences of chronic worrying are:
- Difficulty making decisions/indecisiveness
- physical pains- including headaches and muscle pain
- increased propensity for getting sick
- increased tendency to procrastinate
- poor sleep
- difficulty concentrating or focusing
These are just a few of the most common consequences of worrying too much. When individuals chronically worry- or have the “worry bug” they decrease their immune response. Their body is in a hypervigillant state, and stress hormones are released into the body. These stress hormones can help your body prepare for a flight-or-fight response. But research is finding that when they are released for long periods of time (such as when a person is a chronic worrier) it can have a major impact on the human body and lead to a myriad of physical problems and ailments.
So what can you do if you’ve got the worry bug? There are many different things you can do to start living your life differently and stop worrying so much. However, keep in mind, that most of the techniques for ridding yourself of the worry bug takes time and practice. One of the essential components to effectively ridding yourself of chronic worry is a shift in your focus from a future- oriented perspective to a present-moment perspective. Worry is almost always future- oriented. It often starts with the words “What if…”
“What if I don’t get the promotion?”
“What if he thinks badly of me?”
“What if I something bad happens to my son when he’s out with his friends?”
“What if I get hurt while driving my car?”
The list goes on and on…. What may start with a simple “What if” question then begins to transform into a complex web of “what if’s,” as one what if leads to another to another and another. Along with this line of thinking also comes visual imagery of the imagined event. Usually this imagined, feared event frightens us or upsets us in some way. And what do you think happens when you begin to imagine some terrifying event take place in the future? Your body tenses up, and it begins to act AS IF the event is really happening. But this is the catch- IT HASN’T HAPPENED YET! Now we have a physiological response (remember: release of stress hormones in the body) to an IMAGINED event, not a real one. Our body becomes affected by this worrying, we start to feel fearful of this imagined outcome and we try to do whatever we think we can to avoid this terrible outcome from happening. As a result we often end up feeling stuck.
The important piece of this equation is that all of this mental energy is spent attempting to predict or anticipate a FUTURE outcome. By beginning to focus on the here-and-now we spend less time engaging in thoughts about the future and more time living our lives in the present moment. One way to begin to live your life more in the present moment is through a mindfulness practice. (More about Mindfulness will be discussed in this website). Mindfulness is not the only avenue to ridding one’s self of the worry bug, but it is one that has been proven to work.
There are many techniques that have been proven to help manage worry, such as: worry time, the stop technique, and other cognitive-behavioral strategies. These techniques can be helpful in learning to worry less. Some of the core features of learning to worry less are:
- Increase the amount of time you spend in the present moment. This can be done by engaging in a mindfulness practice. You can make this shift by increasing your awareness of the time you spend thinking about the future and remembering to bring yourself back to the present moment. So next time you find yourself consumed by the worry bug, regain your focus on what is actually happening in the moment. Take a breath, look around, and re-engage in what is going on right in front of you.
- Recognize what you can and cannot control. The serenity prayer that is used as part of the 12-step recovery process works for a reason. Once you can begin to quickly recognize the things in your life that you can and cannot control you can begin to live much more peacefully. Are you worrying about something you can’t control? Are you trying to control or predict the future? Are you trying to control another person’s behavior? Remember the things that you can control are actually quite few. (As an exercise see if you can list right now the things you can and can’t control and notice what you come up with).
- Slow down- The worry bug often gets you revved up. Your mind is moving fast, and your body may be moving fast, too. When you are anxious, stressed and worried it is difficult to create a shift in your thinking. Sometimes the key to turning off the worry bug is to SLOW DOWN. Sometimes you may need to slow your body first. Stop what you are doing and stop multi-tasking. Do something relaxing, if possible, or even just sit quietly for a moment. The worry bug does not like quiet.
Remember- I am not suggesting that you do not think about the future, or ever ponder about potential scenarios in the future. The goal is to strike a balance between the time you spend thinking about the future or past and the time you spend living in the present moment. Many people live a great deal of their lives constantly two steps ahead of themselves. When you do this, you are prone to living a life filled with worry, uncertainty, stress and agitation.
So now that you have read this information, sit where you are for just a few moments in silence and let the information soak in. Perhaps you might set and intention for yourself for how you would like to practice living your life differently from this moment forward.
And after you give yourself a few moments of silence. Then open your eyes and move on to the next moments of your day…