For most of my life, I’ve felt that being happy was:
- Only possible if everything was going great
- If everyone else around me was feeling great and doing well
I worried endlessly. I still do. I worry intensely and more often than not, unnecessarily about everything and everyone who is important to me and far more than most other people would worry about me. I feel it’s somehow, my duty. If you love or care about someone, you worry and you wonder, right?
Or, I worry because I think it helps in some way for the following main reasons:
- If you worry, you’ll come up with a solution and be prepared to deal or cope with every possible scenario that could crop up within and outside of the situation at hand
- Worrying will keep problems away because of #1
- Not worrying means that we’re ignoring things we should be worrying about
- Being worried, anxious, depressed is a shorter fall than already being up in the air somewhere, happy…when troubles hit
- Besides #1 and #2, if we worry about something, we are “magically” (Magic Thinking in Cognitive Therapy) actually warding off negative happenings, events or such for ourselves and others we care about.
Reality is though, I’ve worried myself into a tizzy that I have had a hard time getting out of. Once a pattern within us, we need to retrain our thinking into different patterns. Sheer brute force of trying to stop ourselves from worrying, doesn’t help or work because it’s fairly ingrained in a lot of us, if not deeply ingrained especially, if we’ve begun to think of it as a coping mechanism or magic spell so to speak.
What is worry?
Worry is the emotional and physical reactions (such as anxiety) created by dwelling on certain thoughts concerning perceived, imagined or real difficulties and problems.
Notice the term “dwelling on”. It means constantly thinking about whatever issues you or someone close to you might be feeling or going through. It can encompass everything from simple to complex issues but, the idea behind it is that we tend to linger, ruminate and even obsess endlessly about real or imagined problems, issues or imagined troubles that may or may not be the case. In turn, our thoughts produce a physiological response similar to those who are facing real and imminent or immediate dangers. Our bodies react with all sorts of the same bodily and brain chemicals as it would were we to be faced with a real crisis situation that is either of utmost importance or, life and death. Picture a tiger attacking us or about to. We react with the same types of physiological responses.
Does Worry Help In All Reality?
Worrying is one of the most useless emotions we could have. While I know that it may sound counter-intuitive right now, “aren’t we thinking about the problem and that’s a good thing?” and, I still have my own work to do within myself as I’m still chewing my nails down to the quicks, shivering and shaking through my imagined crises often enough, the answer is a simple, NO…it’s not helpful in any way. As a matter of fact, it’s destructive in many ways to us and the situation.
Why Is Worry Not Helpful?
Worrying is an emotional response to a thought or set of thinking. It is not a solution. It’s a reaction within our bodies to a constant plaguing thought or set of thoughts and renders us (eventually, given enough worry) as ineffective. We freeze up when we are over-burdened with fear and its chemicals. Our bodies begin to react with adrenalin and other chemicals while we shake, shiver, don’t feel like eating and our blood rushes to our limbs, not our brains where we should have the blood flow to solve the issues wherever we can. In other words, it detracts from our ability to think straight, clearly and rationally. Instead, we are simply “reacting” within our bodies but, doing no good anywhere. In effect, all of those fear chemicals, when kept at a higher level through worrying, actually do our bodies harm. Our blood pressure rises, we sweat, cry, feel nauseous, head to the washroom often and all of the other responses that we get with fear and anxiety. Over time, a pattern of constant anxiousness can lead to a true disorder where some people can’t move forward and others are so distraught that they can’t even leave their houses and beds. Done long enough, it can turn to depressive thinking and depression. In short, nothing gets resolved and we only hurt ourselves in many ways. Even relationships dissolve over a chronic worrier who has gotten to the point where they drag others down with them and their worrying, anxiety and even depression. The point of this piece though is not to have you worrying about worrying so, bear with me as we go through this further.
Worrying Begins With Thoughts
We all have doom and gloom thoughts. Our imaginations are marvellous portions of our brains. It can conjure up whatever we wish it to create for us. Some of us chronic worriers could match Stephen King and surpass his knack for the macabre. We’d likely make money at it if we were to put it onto paper or the big screen like King does. It’s amazing what worriers can do with simple thoughts by blowing them out of proportion and taking them down avenues on tangents. In other words, one thought leads to another and another until we’ve worked ourselves into a tizzy, needlessly and may I add, fruitlessly.
My cat, whom I love dearly, is diabetic. I’d give her insulin shots twice a day. This wasn’t my first time as I had a previous diabetic cat whom I’d do the same for and not even think about it beyond the initial learning curve on how to give him his shots. After awhile, it became routine and the vets worried about the rest so to speak.
With this cat, I figured, “oh yeah, I’ve been there before. I did it then and I can do it again.”
Stupidly, I decided to look up feline diabetes on the net since it had been over 10 years since my previous cat and I’d forgotten a lot of things. Big mistake. There are a lot of sites on the net and a lot written on the topic but, there’s only a few sites that hold any real merit and accurate information about treating it. Instead of simply giving the shots as directed like I once did with the other beloved cat, I delved into a site that not only held days and days worth of reading but, also a member’s board and proclamations that by following their “protocol” (based on a small study done on a handful of diabetic cats by a doctor who was a scientist, not a vet), people were dosing their cats and testing their blood glucose levels with human home meters, claiming that they could revert a diabetic cat by following this method. Off I went for over a year with this site.
I bought a home meter and I tested the poor dear’s ears until they were raw (yes, cats are tested with a small blood sample from the marginal vein of the ear). I drove her nuts and myself with spread sheets the site had electronically stored online with your profile and I literally became obsessed with every single number I got. When things weren’t going the way that I had read they should go, I felt like a failure and more than that, I panicked that I was doing more harm than good. I imagined myself a failure as a caregiver and I’d drive our poor vet out of his mind, phoning him several times a week to ask what to do with this number or that number. I wasn’t sleeping anymore. I was up all night, watching the poor cat, testing, worrying fretting and literally, wouldn’t leave the house for more than a couple of hours at best in case her glucose dropped to a hypoglycaemic number. In short, I was obsessed and a mess.
“She could die, you know!” I’d exclaim to my husband who was now both fed up and tired of being in the house all of the time with me as a basket case, overwhelmed to the point of being dysfunctional. I was no longer thinking rationally anymore but, I had taken this to realms of worry to the point where most cat lovers and pet caregivers would have had me committed to a mental institution.
It wasn’t until the poor cat hit a crisis point where she wasn’t eating for 24 hours and I had her self-diagnosed with what’s called Hepatic Lipidosis (fatty liver that cats get when they don’t eat) ketosis (an abundance of ketones that become acidic and can kill the pet or person), stomach and bowel cancers, as well as a whole host of other diseases that meant certain death almost immediately. It was when I insisted that we take her to her vet with those thoughts running amok and had me shaking like a leaf, paralyzed with fear and not knowing what to do that her regular vet took one look at me and said, “I’m more concerned about you than I am about her. She’s fine,” that I realized that I was going to slowly kill myself if I didn’t stop this insanity. It was my own thoughts and more than a bit too much reading on the net (consider it obsessive reading and site involvement) that had led me to this state of worry, fear, anxiety, panic and cleaned our wallets dry when I hadn’t really left the house for more than an hour or two here and there. I had hovered over her incessantly and wasn’t living my own life nor, letting her or my poor patient husband live theirs. That’s when I had her put into a 24 hour vet clinic and simply said, “straighten her out”. Several thousand dollars that we didn’t have later, she was much better and I felt much better, knowing professionals were taking care of her 24/7 with all of their knowledge and technology. In all reality, they didn’t do much for her except wait it out and watch her, giving her some fluids and something I could have given her at home. Actually, having had a 4 day rest from all of the caregiving, getting some sleep and food finally, I didn’t want her to come home at that point and had even briefly considered re-homing her for someone else to take care of.
The moral of this story is that for all of my worrying, fretting, obsessive hovering. For all of my shaking, sleep deprivation, fear, anxiety and panic, I had not only not helped her but, I’d harmed her, myself, my husband and my relationship with him and her as well as not wanting to be me. All of that worry did nothing for anyone that was good. Most of all, it began with wanting knowledge and thinking which turned to obsession and fear, worry and paralyzation through the worry and panicking. More than anything, none of us were “well” and I was only going deeper into obsession. It had turned us into dysfunction and our cat’s diabetes wasn’t the only thing I had been worrying about at the time either. As is my pattern, I’d also taken on everyone else’s problems, cat health issues and everything else you can imagine. Once the snow ball starts down the hill, it only becomes bigger as it goes down, threatening to crush you in its path and, it does.
Great, So How Do I STOP Worrying Before I Become A Psychiatric Patient?
Worrying is a pattern of thinking that is learned. It has its roots in feeling a lack of control and trying to gain control where none or little can be had no matter what you do or don’t do. Worrying gives us illusions that….
- We have control where we don’t really have it
- We have control over things that we have imagined that are likely not the case or, if they are, we likely can’t control no matter what we do or don’t do
- It attempts to foresee the problems that may be there or are and goes beyond that level by imagining other scenarios and trying to solve them before they happen or get worse
- It causes our imaginations to put 2 and 2 together to arrive at 5, 7, 9, 10, 21 and the list goes on
- It creates a pathway within our brains where neurochemicals are emitted into our bodies that lead us to paralyzation, not proper or fitting action and reactions that we think or feel is doing good when it’s doing harm in many ways
- We can foresee every possible scenario that might or could crop up, well into the future and a method or plan on dealing with it
- Somehow, magically, we are warding off what we consider the “bad thing” from happening because we’re on the ball
- We once worried about something and it never came to pass therefore, worrying is a preventative measure and can stop the ills of the world or, at the least, our own lives
- Worrying doesn’t let us miss anything so we’re more effective
- We’ll somehow come up with a solution to everything and everyone else’s issues. The God Complex so to speak.
Worrying about something does NONE of these things. It’s not a magic cure nor will it prevent anything from happening or not happening. It doesn’t have that kind of control because we don’t have that kind of control.
Life is filled with uncertainty and it’s learning to live like everyone else does, with that uncertainty while doing our best about what we can do something about but, leaving it as it’s out of our hands once we’ve done that much.
We cannot foresee every possible outcome, issue or problem and come up with a solution for it. As a matter of fact, most of what we worry about either never comes to pass or if it does, not in the manner that we dreamed up during our worrying so, those imagined solutions to imaginary problems were, in fact, useless. There are just far too many variables that can come into play for us to be able to foresee and plan for even should it happen.
A worn out person, mind and body through worrying ourselves into a state of panic, can’t handle anything well, let alone what may or may not be coming our way. We are less prepared to deal with anything when we get to this state of being. In effect, we can become ineffectual and there’s only so long that our bodies and brains can handle being in that constant state of upset and fear.
Here’s A Few Tips
- Stay calm and keep busy with other things especially, things we enjoy doing.
- Recognize and drill into your mind daily that we aren’t omnipotent and can’t control everything no matter how badly we want to stop “bad things” from happening
- Set aside time to talk out your worries, fears and anxieties over your imagined scenarios. It can be a good friend, a partner, spouse, writing them into a journal or, seeking out professional help to get this worrying habit more into perspective
- Give yourself a “Worry Time” where you allot yourself perhaps, 20 minutes once or twice a day to worry. Either ask someone to be your worry board to bounce it out of your brain or what most people do is to journal it into a dollar store notebook.
- At the end of your Worry Time, close the book or talk to your worry buddy about other things that please you or make a cup of tea or eat a yummy snack that you like….reward yourself in a pleasant way that you’ve closed that door or book cover on your worries
- Don’t allow yourself to worry about anything in between. Tell yourself “STOP…that’s for later” and save it for your Worry Time. If your mind wants to worry, your mind isn’t busy enough. Get busy even if it’s to watch tv with something you enjoy (not news unless it’s a topic that you are truly interested in..news is all doom and gloom because the good stuff doesn’t buy airtime yet, there’s plenty of good in the world that we never get to hear). Bake a cake, fix your car, build a wall shelving unit, paint, sew, watch a ball game…anything that you enjoy that keeps your mind occupied in a constructive and distracting way.
- My favourite is to get outdoors and into nature even when it’s bitter cold. Watch the birds, the clouds or go to a friend’s house for coffee or a juice or tea or whatever your favourite is. For me, birds have a cute nature and they say that one can’t be negative when looking up. Look up.
- Live in the moment and what you’re doing but, when the moment is not pleasant, distract your mind towards a time in your life when things were great, happy and constructive or relaxing. If you can’t do that, think of a movie or television program where there was happiness, comedy or whatever makes you feel better
- If you can, tire yourself out by getting physically active. Take a walk, lift weights, put on an exercise video, vacuum, go to the gym (company and exercise), turn on music and dance (two things at once…enjoyment and exercise). Do whatever you enjoy doing.
- When and if you can, remove yourself from the places that feel negative to you. If you have a rotten neighbour who loves to come lean on your shoulder and makes you feel worse, make up an excuse or tell them, “not today, sorry”. Even if you can only do so for a bit of time, try to get to a physical space that allows you to feel safe and calm for even a tiny bit of time
- Face your fears head-on. That worst case scenario that you have running through your mind may or may not occur but, only by facing it and dealing with whatever you need to deal with, can you get rid of that worrying. The sooner, the better. It’s usually the unknown and uncertainty that has us stuck, obsessed in thoughts and thinking about it. Don’t avoid facing a situation if it’s going to happen. Face it and deal with it the best way you can figure out at that moment, given the circumstances. Even if it’s uncomfortable, there’s nothing as bad as our minds portray it to be. We are in more torture by imagining the worst case scenario than we are when or if we actually have to deal with it.
- You’re already imagining the worst case scenario more than likely. Gather your thoughts about that scene. What can you do about it and what can’t you do about? Decide on a plan of action with a few simple steps that you can take and realize what you can’t do anything about, leaving it behind in the dust. If it’s not yours to deal with, you have to leave it up to others to deal with while you do other things whether you like their choices or you don’t. If you can do something and it is your responsibility to deal with something, come up with a few key ways to deal with the situation then, leave it be. Let it go. Worrying about it won’t solve it. Only action will deal with it or solve it. Think about ways to do something about it but, end it at thinking (which doesn’t involve emotional reactions) and end it once you have a plan. Then, move on to other things in Life. There’s always something to move on towards.
Remember this portion of a poem you’ll likely recognize:
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change those things I can
Wisdom to know the difference
We all face things that we don’t want to have to face.
We all have problems as no one is without them in this Life.
None of us are alone in this world no matter how isolated we’ve allowed ourselves to become or are have been made to be.
There’s always an answer to everything even if we have to go through the emotional or physical pain it causes. We may not be able to have any control over the situation. That may be out of our hands no matter what we do or don’t do. It may be in other’s hands or even simply whatever you wish to call it, Fate, The Universe, God, Higher Powers or whatever. The reality is, this too shall pass. Even Death as a worst case scenario may or may not be able to be stopped but, is it really so bad or might it eventually feel like a blessing for us or for those we love and care about? In spite of grief if we are left behind, Life goes on somehow. We find ways for it to do so eventually. Worrying about dying is not going to prevent it. Thinking about ways to stay safe can help so think about it but, don’t DWELL on it. We’re all going to die. No one gets out of Life, alive.
One woman once told me as I was fretting, stewing, brewing, fearing, worrying and feeling dreadful about a possible outcome of surgery, risks of anesthesia and dying,
“What are you worried about,” she asked nonchalantly. “If you die, you’re either going some place beautiful with peace and joy and no pain but, love and happiness or….there’s nothing….and, you won’t know the difference.”
Right there, she had the worst case scenario and she ran past it with both the best case and worst case outcomes and honestly, I didn’t see either as being bad. Both were fine.
From my little corner of life, worrying is a wasted energy and one to be dealt with. We will all worry about something or many things. The trick is to minimize it as quickly as possible and recognize that it only harms us, others and the situation. Life is filled with uncertainties but, it’s meant to be lived with as much quality as we can. Worrying only detracts from that ability.
Be well. Love and Light to you.
Have a great day or evening.