Are you a worrier? I certainly used to be. I remember feeling transfixed by worry; unable to focus on anything or constantly coming back to the same issues, as it churned around by mind over and over again.
The funny thing about worry is that we ‘think’ we need to ‘think’ our way out of the worry. It’s like, if only we could worry enough, or hard enough, suddenly we’ll worry ourselves into calmness, or a solution. Perhaps you believe that if you worry enough you’ll mentally prepare yourself for the future, should things go wrong.
Research at Pennsylvania State University has found that worry is a form of avoiding our emotions; when we ‘think’ about things, it’s less emotionally taxing than ‘feelings’ things. When we’re worried, we believe we can ‘think’ our way out of feeling negative emotions.
It’s thought that those prone to worry are more likely to have a negative interpretation of their feelings. In my teens and early 20’s I used to obsessively worry. The worry often felt like essential preparation for the worst happening. I realise now that I was using worry to avoid my own feelings of shame and uncertainty; I was even ashamed of my own feelings and denied I was even having them. Unable to even identify them my emotions, I used worry (and alcohol!) to try to avoid them.
Worry is not the only way of avoiding feelings; many of us overeat, drink too much or use drugs, sex or gambling as a way of anaesthetising ourselves and avoiding our emotions. While this may work in the very short term, the emotion is still there afterwards, calling out for attention.
A way of tackling this is to listen to your emotions. Your emotions are important and valid and they are nothing to be ashamed of. Feelings of anger, sadness or anxiety are all normal emotions and part of the human experience.
Robert Leahy, author of Anxiety Free: Unravel Your Fears Before they Unravel You says that a way to tune into your emotions is to keep a journal, writing down down feelings as you notice them during the day. I suggest you could also try using an app to track your emotions, such as ‘I Mood journal’. Tracking your emotions can help you to notice patterns and triggers and eventually, learn to accept your feelings more.
Rather than worrying, understand that emotions tell you something very important; they let you know what your needs are. Next time you notice a negative feeling, think about what it’s letting you know about your own needs and work on finding actions that you can take to create change in your life and get your needs met.
For example, if you are worried and anxious because you have a desire for everything to be perfect, think about which of your needs are not being met; could it be an issue of self esteem or self acceptance that needs to be addressed? Do you need to work on being kinder and gentler with yourself?
Another key point about worrying is that we believe it serves a purpose; that it helps us to find solutions or even protects us from future pain. The truth is that worry is often unnecessary and in-constructive and we tend to play the same things over and over in our minds.
A problem is that many people are ambivalent when it comes to worry; it’s so endemic that it just seems normal and necessary. To tackle this, draw up a list of the pros and cons of worrying. You might find that the cons massively outweigh any benefits. Remember that worrying doesn’t take away tomorrow’s pain, it just ruins today’s peace.
One way of making sure worrying does not take over your life, as well as ensuring that worry is as constructive as it can be, is to create a ‘worry time’. Whenever you have a worry throughout the day, write it down and save it until worry time. Try to set yourself 20 minutes of dedicated worry time each day, that you exclusively dedicate to worrying and, crucially, thinking of actions you can take for any of the worries. Make a note of any worries that you have for which you can’t take any action and work on accepting them.
For example, if you’re worried about money, plan on making a budget or thinking of steps you can take to increase your cash flow. If you’re worried about something that is outside of your control, such as the economy, work on accepting that you can’t control it and you can only do your best. At this point it’s nice to remember the serenity prayer;
‘Give us the serenity to accept what cannot be changed,
The courage to change what can be changed,
and the wisdom to know the one from the other’
I’d love to hear your thoughts on worry; what do you worry about and how to you overcome it?
- Sign up to my newsletter to get your FREE relaxation MP3 to help you to feel calmer today.
By Chloe Brotheridge