By Noel Foy
Are you a worrrywart? For much of my life, I was a professional worrier— childhood worries such as sleepovers, doctor visits, germs, grades, and fear of making mistakes morphed into adult worries about my husband, children, finances and deadlines.
Funny thing is, I didn’t tell anyone how I felt. Despite frequent headaches, butterflies, tightness in my chest, and heart palpitations, I just kept these physical sensations to myself and quietly internalized my thoughts—sometimes fighting them, other times telling myself to just suck it up. Either way, I was left feeling I had no control over my worries. Guess what? I was wrong!
Worry is Common
If you worry, you’re not alone. Everyone worries at some point in life. A certain amount of worry is normal, especially when facing new situations. A Liberty Mutual Insurance study found about 38% of us worry on a daily basis, and in a recent poll by the American Psychiatric Association, almost 40% reported feeling more anxious than at this time last year, 39% equally anxious and 19% less anxious. The nation’s anxiety score showed a 5% increase at 51.
Excessive worry is on the rise. The 2018 Children’s Mental Health Report from the Child Mind Institute reveals a 17% increase in anxiety disorder diagnosis in young people over the last 10 years. Despite effective treatments and a decrease in the stigma associated with mental health illness, most people experiencing anxiety don’t seek help.
Understand How Worry Works
Worriers often live in a world of “What if’s.” As child, I was consumed by thoughts such as, What if I don’t like the food at my friend’s house or need a shot at the doctor’s office? What if I get sick from the person sneezing next to me or fail a test? What if forget my dance routine or lines? As an adult, my What’s if’s included: What if we don’t save enough for college? What if my husband or children get in an accident? What if I don’t make a deadline at work?
Well-meaning parents, teachers, or friends may inadvertently fuel anxiety by making comments such as, “Don’t worry about it. Everything will be fine.” Anxiety wants certainty, yet those who deal with anxiety need to learn how to manage uncertainty and the unexpected. Comments such as “Don’t worry. Get over it. Pull up your big girl pants” dismiss a person’s feeling and make them feel judged. Over-reacting to a person’s anxiety isn’t an effective remedy either.
If left untreated, anxiety can disrupt a family, relationships and the ability to learn and develop emotionally, which can lead to behavior problems, avoidance of school, jobs and social situations. Ironically, avoiding worrisome situations tend to intensify their power. Staying away from school, the dentist’s office or a social event will not build the needed skills needed to face and manage anxiety-provoking situations.
When You’re Worrying Too Much
You’re worrying too much when it gets in the way of daily life. Here are some warning signs to watch:
– Trouble sleeping
– Lack of attention and focus
– Often irritable, moody ,or feel physical symptoms of stress
– Loss of perspective, always waiting for other shoe to drop or on guard for future threats
– Ruminating or constantly replaying what happened in the past
Coach Your Brain
Believe it or not, you can teach your brain how to worry less!
Start by becoming aware of how your body feels and the thoughts going through your mind—are they in the past, present, or future? Allow yourself to accept how you feel.
Breathe through your worry, using slow, deep breaths to anchor and distract you from worried thinking.
Continue to interrupt the downward spiral of negative patterns such as catastrophizing or black and white thinking by reframing your thoughts with a helpful mantra or empowering perspective. Instead of thinking or saying, “I’ll never lose this weight” switch to “I’ll do what I can today.” This influences your next step—whether to eat a tray of brownies or hit the gym. Easy to do? No! Doable? Absolutely!
By accepting your worry and choosing not to be consumed by it, you take control and change your relationship with worry. By viewing worry as an opportunity vs. an obstacle, you can learn how to manage anxiety provoking thoughts and situations, so you can feel and think better and do more of what you love.
Click here for more information about Noel Foy and to see the books she has written about worry.