Stopping the Worry Habit

My challenge for you is to try this strategy for a month. Pay attention to what happens to your thoughts, and your attitude, over the month. Do you notice yourself worrying less? Are you happier? Remember to give this new habit a chance to get established. It has worked for me. I know that it will work for you if you give it a chance!

Worrying about things is always something that I have had to fight with. I can remember being a child and worrying about whether I would do well on a test or whether everything would go well on an outing the next day. I guess I come by my worrywart status honestly since my mom was a worrier too. But if there is anything I have learned over the past few years is that worrying is just not worth the time or effort. It is a habit I am determined to break!

I think I can assume that we have all heard the statistic that 95% of the things we worry about will actually not happen. It is a statistic that I have put to the test myself and I have found it to be true. Stats have also shown that reality never turns out to be as bad as we think. But those simple facts just aren’t enough to get me to stop! A juicy little tidbit such as my cat acting a bit funny (which he does regularly) comes along and, boom, I’m worrying that he is sick or worse! And once I start worrying, it is as though my mind is on a spiral, twirling out of control. Why do I worry? Because I honestly think that I can prevent whatever I’m worrying about from happening or to prepare myself for the worst case scenario in case it does. Does it work? No…because they rarely ever happen…but if they do, I’m prepared!!

Worrying is not good for us. All worry is caused by fear and it actually makes those fears worse by analyzing them and reinforcing them. Every time we worry about something, our “fight or flight” (stress) reaction is triggered and adrenaline and other stress hormones are released into our bloodstream. Our bodies immediately go into “action” mode, increasing our heart rate and blood pressure, tightening our muscles, and shunting blood to our vital organs, including our brain. This is great if you are actually in a life-or-death situation but not so good if you aren’t. And, unfortunately, our brains can’t tell the difference between our worry thoughts (which it interprets as “we are in danger”) and our actually being in a life-or-death situation, so every time we worry, stress hormones are released. Of course, most of us worriers don’t just worry occasionally, it is almost a constant thing for us. So instead of giving our bodies time to relax and recover between each worry “fight or flight” episode, they start to come one on top of the other, accumulating their effects and causing what we call “stress”. Stress is not good for our health. It has been linked to increases of heart disease and stroke, as well as diabetes and cancer. It also adversely affects our sleep patterns, our blood sugar levels, and our mental and emotional wellbeing, among other things. It also takes a lot of energy for your body to get ready to “fight or flight”. This means that it takes a lot of your already precious energy just to maintain your worry habit. And I’m sure, if you are like me, you have better, more productive things to do with your energy! So what we are doing is, in effect, is using our imaginations to make ourselves sick. Hmmm, there is something wrong with this picture!

When I was having problems with anxiety, the counsellor I was working with gave me a tool that I have been using since to gain control over my worrying. This “worry strategy” is a process that helps me to put my worries into perspective my turning them into problems that I can solve. By taking constructive, positive action, I can gain control of the fear and use my imagination to make me feel safe. As a result I feel more proactive and empowered. The “worry strategy” consists of two parts:

1. Whenever I find myself worrying during the day, I stop myself and take the time to write down my worries in detail using a notebook I keep in my purse. Then I do my best to “let them go” for the time being and get on with my day; and

2. I deal with all of my worries during time I set aside each day just for worrying. During this “Worry Time” I take a close look at each worry’ analyzing exactly how much of a threat it actually is and, if it is something I can do something about, developing a plan to deal with it. Then I TAKE ACTION.

Yes, there are things that I worry about that I don’t have any control over. These worries are usually the really juicy ones that cause me the most stress. What I do with these is do my best to let them go. I’m not always successful but I’m getting better at it the longer I use the strategy. I’ve learned that it just isn’t worth wasting valuable time and energy on things I can’t control. I would much prefer to use them on things that I can.

My challenge for you is to try the “Worry Strategy” for a month.   A detailed copy of the process is available on my website at www.brightenyourfuture.ca/resources . Remember that it takes time to eliminate old habits and to firmly establish new ones so give it time. If you find yourself getting discouraged let your spouse, another family member, a close friend or a coach know what you are doing and ask them for help. Their encouragement and support will help you to stay the course. Observe what is happening to your thoughts and attitude over the next month. Are you finding yourself worrying less? Is your attitude toward life becoming more positive? If you are like me, you will find that your thoughts will become more positive, you will start worrying less, and you will be happier. It is well worth the effort!