It is exhausting to live in fear, and worse than that … it keeps you from living.
“How are you feeling?”
“I am worried.”
Worry is not an emotion. It is your brain on steroids, ruminating and racing along. Going over the same things. Over and over. And over.
Doubt can lead to checking and rechecking whether or not doors are locked. Cleaning baseboards at all hours of the night. Buying things only in certain numbers. Counting everything in your head that you see, without having the conscious intent of thinking about numbers.
“I’m so OCD” has become a “funny” thing to say in our culture.
Not amusing for someone who has those disorders.
If severe, these are the symptoms of either Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (intrusive thoughts that are repetitious or can’t seem to be stopped plus behaviors that you feel compelled to do), or what’s called Generalized Anxiety Disorder (hypervigilance, over-arousal and constant worry or sense of dread).
The folks who have them are pretty miserable, unless they can keep their symptoms to a dull roar. It’s hard to want to give them up. Because the belief is so rock solid that those rituals, those worries are keeping their world safe. Serving the function of standing in the way of disaster.
“If I worry about it, I can prevent it from happening.”
It is rational to believe that if you are alert. If you think. If you are educated and not naive, then you can often foresee what might happen. Avoid trouble.
Put on sunscreen and you won’t get burned. Air up your tires and your car will be safer. Put money into savings and it’s there for an emergency.
To believe that you can foolproof your life? Or the life of your children?
Fewer of us would ever die of cancer. Or have a heart attack. Because those of us with brains would be doing exactly what would offer a life with absolute safety.
But that doesn’t exist.
Bad things happen to good, cautious people. Happy productive people. People who have filled up their tires and put on sunscreen.
I hear about it every day.
So what do you do if you are a worrier?
1) Challenge the belief that the worry or ritual is keeping your life in control.
I hold a pencil in my hand. At first, fairly lightly, but firmly.
“Do I have control of the pencil?”
Then I will squeeze it. Really hard. So hard that the muscles in my arm begin to shake. My fingers are turning white, my face turning red from the exertion.
“Do I still have control of the pencil?”
“What else is happening?”
It’s obvious what is happening. I am putting incredible strain on my body. My mind. I am focusing so much attention on the pencil that I can’t think of anything else.
I lose perspective.
And am probably less in control than when I was holding it lightly.
It’s the same with excessive worry.
So we do not cause damage to our present.
2) Make a “worry journal.”
Sit down once a day. And write all you want about what you are worried about. Fifteen minutes. Maybe longer.
Then don’t allow your mind to go back to those worries until the same time the next day. Corral your worries into a time slot. And leave them there when you close the journal.
They will be waiting for you.
You may actually come up with a solution or a fresh idea as you write. Instead of aimlessly obsessing.
3) Get some exercise.
Any kind will do. Running. Swimming. Or yoga. Just get moving.
Whenever I find myself worrying too much, I get on my tennis shoes and hike the hill I live on. It’s good for mind, spirit and hamstrings.
4) Actively replace the catastrophic thought with a more rational one.
Whatever horrible thing you believe might happen, replace it with a more logical thought.
“We will all be killed in a plane crash.” Replace it with a more logical thought.
“There are too many crazy people driving on the highway. It’s not safe.” Replace.
“No one really likes me.” Replace. And breathe deeply.
Practice this. A lot. Actively confront your fear.
5) Medication can be helpful. Traditional or alternative.
Whether you want to go the traditional or alternative route, medication can be helpful. They can help you have clearer thoughts. A fresh focus. Many antidepressants have a strong anti-anxiety component. Beta blockers can be used. Benzodiazepines can be used in acute cases where they can be extremely helpful. Just realize they can be very addictive.
6) Practice a calmer life.
This is common sense stuff.
Elimination or reduction of caffeine. Getting enough sleep. Vital. Mindfulness or meditation practices are also very effective for many.
6) Accept the thoughts and slowly learn to manage the anxiety.
This may seem hard to understand. “Why should I accept that I have these intrusive thoughts?”
David Carbonell, Ph.D. explains this on his website totally devoted to anxiety control. You can accept that you have the doubt – “Can I get on the plane?” “Did I turn off my curling iron?” and work with it, not against it. I also very much admire R. Reid Wilson’s books, “Don’t Panic” and “Stop Obsessing.”
7) Work with a therapist.
A therapist can help you see patterns in your behavior that perhaps are not as obvious to you, or maybe an event in your past that may have triggered your anxiety. They are objective and supportive.
I use both traditional therapy and hypnosis for anxiety. Both can be very effective.
It’s worth a try.
So you don’t live in fear.
You can read more of Dr. Margaret on her website. Subscribe and you will receive a free copy of her new eBook, “Seven Commandments Of Good Therapy”, a basic guide on how to choose a potential therapist or how to evaluate the therapy you are currently receiving. You can also email her with comments: [email protected]