Are you a worrywart? I am most definitely one. I spend a lot of time worrying. Like, a lot. Besides my kids and family, I worry about such things as people who get caught in the rain, or someone who misses the bus…crazy, huh? I’m not sure why I’m such a worrier, but it’s been the case for as long as I can remember. I am happy to say however, it’s become MUCH better in the past couple of years and that’s a good thing because it sucks the life out of me…literally. Worrying is as bad for your health as any stress, maybe more. And, it visibly ages you…ain’t nobody wants that! If you’re like me and struggle to keep it reigned in, you owe it to yourself to make a conscious effort to get it under control.
Easier said than done though, right?!
One revelation I had about worrying is that it *might* have a little to do with control. Worriers often worry most about situations they can’t control. EUREKA! (The control freak in me is cringing as I type this because it sounds silly.) It makes perfect sense though – my brain feels that if I can control the outcome of something then I don’t have to worry as much about it. And vice versa. A very wise person helped me to see that worrying about something (or not) will not change the outcome, even though I convince myself 100% that I can change it…if I just worry enough. It’s common sense, really, but having someone point it out like that was super helpful for me. The hard part is remembering that juicy little tidbit when the worries strike!
While a little worrying now and then is not a bad thing and often acts as the kick in the butt we need to get something done, too much of it is harmful to your health. Shocker, I know. I’m sure it’s no surprise to anyone that excessive worrying is hard on the head. It causes the already anxious person to become more anxious, makes it difficult to concentrate on anything, works away on your mood so you’re irritable more often than not, and can eventually lead to problems with depression. Besides affecting your mental state though, being a worrywart generates physical symptoms that can lead to physical health issues that range from mild to serious. Worrying activates the sympathetic nervous system, triggering a “fight or flight” response in the body. This sends a rush of the stress hormone cortisol (and a few others) throughout your body…so you’re poised and ready to get away from that “tiger”. The trouble is that worries are seldom about something that requires the energy it takes to run from a tiger, therefore the stress hormones don’t get used up. When this excess “fuel” is left unused, it’s harmful to your body, particularly if it happens over and over again – as is the case with a worrywart – resulting in such things as:
- weakened immune system,
- digestive troubles (read this post to learn why you want to avoid that at all costs!),
- muscle aches, pains and tension,
- increased inflammation in the body,
- system imbalances in the body, and
- chronic disease.
But fear not fellow worriers – you can help yourself!
Because we’re not always able to remove ourselves from the situations about which we worry (kids, job, aging parents, etc), it’s important we learn ways to manage the worries. Some of the ways I’ve personally found especially helpful are:
- Schedule time to worry. This might sound weird (and let’s face it, who needs another thing to add to their schedule), but it works. Carve out 15 minutes everyday as your “worry time”. Use that time to think about the things causing you angst and give them your undivided attention for that 15 minutes. When the time is up, pack them away and don’t let yourself thing about them until the next worry time. It allows those of us who feel responsible for worrying about everything to pay attention to them for a bit and then gives us permission to let them go after that. It stops us from ruining the day with worries – and to a worrier, that is a beautiful thing! My one suggestion is to avoid doing this at night – you don’t want to be messing with your sleep. If you find it difficult to only stick to your worry time, try wearing an elastic on your wrist and when you feel the worries starting to sneak in, snap it on your wrist to trigger you to shut it down.
- Practice gratitude. This one is shockinly effective and easy. When worries start to creap into your mind, immediately think of five things you’re grateful for. You actually can’t be anxious and grateful at the same time, so it pushes the worries right out of your head. This is a great one to teach your kids!
- Meditate. Meditation is another amazing tool to control worrying. Even my kids are starting to recognize the value in this and how effective it is in helping them feel less anxious and happier. It’s not an instant fix, but making meditation a daily practice (which likely means more scheduling to make it a habit…sorry about that!) will pull you out of a “negative Nellie, poor me” mindset and have you feeling happier and more relaxed. You can find loads of free guided meditations online to get you started, but my favourite is the Ziva Technique.
- Take five deep breaths. When the worries start to take over, breathing deep, belly breaths stimulates the vagus nerve by activating specific neurons that let the vagus nerve know the blood pressure is too high. The vagus nerve responds by lowering your heart rate – so cool! It pulls your focus away from your worries to your breath. Easy peasy and works like a charm!
- Live today. Anytime my kids start to worry about something that might happen, I ask them, “Is that today?” Full disclosure: they’re getting annoyed hearing it so often, but they’re actually starting to say it back to me when they see me getting overwhelmed! There is no point in spending days, weeks, months worrying about something that may or may not happen. If it doesn’t happen, you’ve put your mind and body through the wringer for nothing and if it does happen, you’ll likely be too exhausted to even deal with it. Focus on today.
- Make a worry list. Divide and write down your worries in two columns; those you can control and those you can’t. Send the ones you can’t control packing and only focus on the ones you can. Then make another pair of lists – those that need your attention today and those that can wait. It’s amazing how much relief this easy tool can bring to your soul.
These tools are super helpful for teaching your mind and body to manage worrying. The one thing I do struggle with sometimes is remembering to do them. As with any meal plan, exercise program, or supplements – they’ll only work if you use them. But the more you use these tricks, the more you’ll notice how effective they are and the sooner they’ll become automatic to you when you find yourself overwhelmed with the worries.