Worry has the potential to be helpful to us, if it propels us towards taking action. However, if we are preoccupied with worry, what ifs and worst case scenarios, worry can become a problem. Unrelenting worry can deprive us of our emotional energy, physical energy, raise our anxiety levels to dangerous highs, and interfere with our ability to function on a daily basis.
Have you ever known anyone so filled with worry that it seemed to paralyze them? Have you ever been so filled with worry that you felt that there were times it interfered with your ability to function?
I have been and not all that long ago. I was an expert worrier. I could and would worry about anything and everything. If I could not find anything real to worry about, I would make up something to obsessively worry about. Every waking minute of every one of my days was filled with worry. I would literally wake up in the mornings with a knot in my stomach.
If my husband was late coming home from work, I would worry that he had been in a horrible wreck and died. If he and the kids were out some where, I would worry that they all had been in a wreck. These worries, even though made up, seemed so real to me that they would make me cry. If someone said they needed to talk to me, I would instantly worry that I had offended them in some way. If I left a certain square mile radius around my house, I would have to call my house constantly, checking to see if it had burnt down. I knew if it had the phone would give me a fast busy signal. If something actually did happen that I needed to be concerned about, the worry would paralyze me. I would just sit on the couch, not moving and it would feel as if i was barely breathing. My brain and body simply could not handle a real worry because they were already so overwhelmed by the fake ones. Constant worry kept me up all night and kept me edgy and cranky.
Being a chronic worrier made it very difficult for me to adjust to changes, or adapt when something did not go according to my plan. I needed know what was going to happen 100% of the time. I could not handle doubt or unpredictability. It was as if my constant worry was a way to prevent bad things from happening. The problem was that it did not work. What it did do was get in the way of me enjoying the things that were happening around me right then. For my own sanity and for the sanity of those around me, things needed to change.
I had to come to grips with my intolerance of uncertainty. I had to learn that nothing in life was certain and no amount of planning on my part would change that.
I set aside 15 minutes every morning and every evening as worry time. During my worry time, I could worry about anything I felt the need to. If something to worry about popped into my head during the day, I wrote it down. After that, I would go on with my day, saving the worry until it was my worry time.
I began to challenge my worries. I no longer accepted them as fact, instead I would ask myself a series of questions to figure out if something was a realistic worry or not.
1. What is a more positive way to look at this situation?
2. What are the chances of this actually coming true?
3. What is a more likely outcome?
4. Is the thought helpful? How will worrying about it help or harm me?
5. What would I say to a friend who had this worry?
I learned how to relax. My counselor taught me progressive muscle relaxation. Basically, what this means is that when I feel overwhelmed with anxiety or worry, I tense and then release different muscle groups in my body. As my body begins to relax so does my mind.
I raised my emotional intelligence. What those fancy words mean is that I try to remain hopeful during trying situations, I work hard to quickly rebound from frustration and disappointment, I ask for help when I need it, and I find positive and creative ways to solve problems.
I can truthfully say that worry no longer consumes my life. I no longer wake up every morning with a knot in my stomach. I am no longer kept awake all night worry about real and imagined things. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off of my shoulders.