I have often thought that telling someone to stop worrying is like telling the tide not to come in. Worrying is an integral part of our human make up and worrying about our family and relationships, our finances, or our physical or mental health, is an everyday occurrence for most of us.
Healthy worrying is simply our brain ‘problem solving’ about things that may happen in the future. This can help us stay safe and avoid danger, for example, when driving a car in bad weather, or walking alone at night. For many of us however, worry can be overwhelming, and may interfere with our lives in ways that are distressing and ultimately disfuctional. Once worrying becomes difficult to control, it’s time to take some steps to try and manage it.
Apparently, we worry more now than we have ever worried before, and our 21st century lives, so full of luxury and convenience compared to other centuries, are causing us stress and anxiety at an unprecedented level. Perhaps it’s because we are less connected to each other than in previous centuries, we have less interaction with neighbours and our communities and often feel alone.
When Facebook and the like began it was certainly all about connecting people. Although all the social media platforms undoubtedly allow us to communicate and gain information about others lives, it would seem that at the same time, this is causing us feelings of stress and inadequacy. I have even learnt a new acronym recently; FOMO, (fear of missing out) which is described as “anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media.”
In my experience, there are three types of worry.
- Worrying about future events (and their possible negative impact)
- Worrying about worry itself, (often more disruptive than generalised worrying) making us feeling powerless, out of control and concerned that our mental health may break down completely.
- Worrying about what other people think of us.
Excessive worrying can’t simply be switched off, but we can try and control it and make it as healthy as possible. Over the years as a counsellor, these steps have helped my clients where excessive worry had become a problem:
Firstly, give yourself permission to worry. Designate a directed worrying period, for ten or twenty minutes a day. “Directed worry” is something I practice if I’m very stressed about something. Allowing myself time to really think it over for a short period is hugely beneficial. We spend a lot of time normally trying to avoid worries, and shutting them out of our thoughts, so allowing them free rein for a short period is actually very liberating!
In the designated worry period allow yourself to consider the worst that could happen and speak it aloud. Verbalising worries often diminish their size and power. Overwhelming anxious thoughts are sometimes found to be lacking in substance once they are spoken aloud. Don’t allow the worry to be vague and without form, or so will the solution. Accept the genuine worry, as long as it is genuine, and remember that worries are not facts.
Next, make a list of your genuine worries on paper or in a journal. Write each separate worry down and place it under the heading “solvable” and “unsolvable”. If it’s within your power to solve the worry, cross it through. If not, consider the merits of worrying about it. Most of the things we worry about never happen. If what we worry about does happen, people will often say they handled it better than they would have expected. You can’t always control events, but you can control your attitude and response towards them and you are a lot stronger than you think. Believe it!
“Women are like teabags, you never know how strong they are until you put them in hot water.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Did worrying help? Think about where you were a year ago, what your worries were at that point, and how many of those concerns came to pass. Try and stop living in a future that you perceive to be frightening and decide to live in the NOW. Take one day at a time and make a promise to yourself that if you are going to worry, it’s only going to be about what’s going to happen in the next 24 hours. There is plenty of time tomorrow to worry about the day after. Delay worrying where you can.
You are not alone. One of the most helpful things I learnt as a worrier was that hundreds of thousands of people were worrying as much as me, about the same things I worried about! I had convinced myself that I was the only one, so it was a great relief that others were having the same experiences. I always recommend clients listen to the numerous podcasts now available. Listening to someone else’s experiences with worrying and anxiety is very therapeutic and can be more helpful than reading, particularly in worry prone times, such as last thing at night before sleep.
Mindfulness, exercise, deep breathing, relaxation, meditation. Any and all of these will help with worry. Either simply by concentrating on something else for a period or by generally calming thoughts, breathing and rationale, these will all help diminish anxiety and restore some balance.
If you are overly concerned about what others think, and feel judged, try and remember that most people are too wound up in their own lives to consider yours for any length of time. Try and avoid lengthy periods of time on social media. However much we try not to, comparing ourselves to others by looking at finely filtered photographs of perfect lives will make us ultimately more dissatisfied with own.
In 2016 researchers at The University of Copenhagen reported that many of us suffer from ”Facebook Envy” and people who didn’t use Facebook were more happy and satisfied with their lot than those who regularly used the site! Don’t become a slave to social media. When it starts becoming a negative influence in your life, consider deleting your accounts, even if only to have a temporary break. I know at least three people who have done just that in the last few months and now talk of feeling ‘liberated’. One said she wished she had done it long before and another said it felt like “a great weight had been lifted.”
Finally, if worrying is a real issue for you, remember that although life can be unpredictable, that is precisely also what makes it wonderful. Don’t confuse unpredictable with frightening. Yes, there may be some difficult times to deal with ahead, but there will also be fantastic experiences and opportunities. You can’t control all the things that are going to happen in your life, but you can definitely manage the way you respond to them. ❤️
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” -Franklin D Roosevelt