One of the most harmful habits we humans have is worry. No matter how much effort we make to be positive optimists, that nagging tendency to worry always seems to creep in. Is worrying normal though? Is it something we should even try to eliminate?
Well, for me, the short answer is yes, we should absolutely try to reduce worrying, even if we may never actually eliminate it completely.
Dr. Robert L. Leahy, PhD, the author of The Worry Cure: 7 Steps to Stop Worry From Stopping You, says that worrying can be a result of genetic factors, but also environmental ones as well:
“There is a genetic component,” he says. “There are also nurture or non-nurture factors. For example, people who come from divorced homes are 70% more likely to have generalized anxiety disorder — characterized by chronic anxiety, exaggerated worry, and tension.”
Overprotective parents tend to raise worriers as well, he says.
Psychologist and psychoanalyst Dr. Sandy Taub, PsyD concurs with Dr. Leahy: “There is probably is a biological component to chronic worry, but there is also an early environment component. The feeling of safety that ‘my mother will keep me safe’ should be internalized and grow along with you so that, for the most part, you feel secure. But if you had a mom who was not as available and not consistent, you can develop the mind-set that the world is not such a safe place. Divorce and overprotection can also gnaw away at a person’s feelings of internal safety and security.” – Dr. Sandy Taub
So perhaps we should first realize that we may never be able to stop worrying, but that we certainly can reduce and control it.
“People worry because they think something bad will happen or could happen, so they activate a hypervigilant strategy of worry and think that ‘if I worry I can prevent this bad thing from happening or catch it early.’ Put another way: If you didn’t worry, things might get out of hand. The worrier’s credo is that if you can simply imagine something bad happening, it’s your responsibility to worry about it.” – Dr. Robert L. Leahy, PhD
So how much worrying is too much?
I think that’s the big question here. Personally, I have carried worry with me for most of my life. I wrestled with why I worried so much, because I had a good upbringing and I was raised with a sense of faith and confidence. So what was making me worry so much? To this day, I have no idea. While I’ve gotten it more under control, I still do worry more than I want to and I believe it has more to do with thinking too much (but that’s another story). I think the real danger is when we build every worry into a nightmare scenario, because doing that does serious damage to our mental and physical health.
If we find ourselves always stressing and filled with anxiety, something needs to be done. Here are some suggestions on how to better control your worrying:
From Dr. Leahy:
No. 1: Make a list of your worries. Identify what you are worried about, says Leahy.
No. 2: Analyze the list. “Look at whether your worry is productive or unproductive. A productive worry is one that you can do something about right now.”
Dr. Leahy explains that a productive worry is one you can actually do something about — an action you can take to address the issue. An unproductive worry however, is one that you can’t actually do anything about —“It is more of a proliferation of ‘what ifs,’ over which you have no control and there is no productive action that will lead to a solution.”
No. 3: Bore yourself calm. “Repeat a feared thought over and over and it will become boring and will go away. Say it enough and it will lose its power.”
No 4: Stop the clock. “Worried people often have a sense of urgency. They think, ‘I need the answer right now and if I don’t get it then something terrible will happen.’ Look at the advantages and disadvantages of demanding such urgency. Rather than focus on the sense of urgency, instead focus on what you observe right now. Ask yourself, ‘What can I do in the present moment to make my life more pleasant or meaningful?’ You can either focus your mind on getting an answer right now or focus on improving the moment. The latter is the better strategy. Take a deep breath, read, or listen to music to stop the clock and curtail your anxiety.”
“Worry is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.” – Arthur Somers Roche
No. 5: Cry out loud. Dr. Leahy advices that we should let it out — cry if you need to. According to Dr. Leahy: “The emotional part of the brain — the amygdala — is suppressed when you worry,” Leahy explains. “The emotion kicks in later with gastrointestinal symptoms, fatigue or rapid heart rate. Use your emotions; don’t try to get rid of them because when you are crying or angry, you are not worried.”
I also like these suggestions…
No. 6: Talk it through. Dr. Leahy offers really fantastic guidance and that’s why I think talking your worries out is key. Talk to a family member, friend, Clergy or a qualified Therapist. Sometimes just speaking out loud about what worries you helps and hearing words of support or reason can help us get passed the chronic worrying. That is why a qualified Therapist is sometimes the route to go, because their knowledge and expertise can help us significantly reduce our worrying.
No. 7: Confront and stop your inner negative voice. Have you ever noticed that when you’re worrying, it tends to be these random, almost uncontrolled thoughts? You may find that when you have down time and don’t have something constructive to fill your time/mind, these nagging negative thoughts creep in. Within minutes, our mind is racing and rehearsing scenarios, anxiety rises and those creeping thoughts take over. We have to stop that voice. When you sense it happening, snap out of it, confront it and banish it — re-focus your mind onto something positive. Firmly tell yourself “nope, not this time…I’m not going to even think about __________!”
“There is nothing that wastes the body like worry, and one who has any faith in God should be ashamed to worry about anything whatsoever.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Chronic worry is an awful feeling. It darkens our mood and zaps the joy. Try the suggestions above to see if they help, but as always, if you feel you need the help of a qualified professional, please seek one out so they can address the issue. Worry seems to be a natural part of our lives and while we may not be able to eliminate it completely, we clearly can reduce it dramatically.
Learn more about Dr. Robert Leahy here.
“Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.” – Marie Curie