Worrying may have a bad rep, but worrying, if it’s done right, can actually be helpful. Effective worrying can anticipate problems, devise artful solutions and expand creative possibilities. On the other hand, ineffective worrying is what keeps us awake at night, distracts us during the day and gives our physical systems a workout they don’t need. According to Dr. Edward Hollowell of the Harvard Medical School, worry is nature’s way of helping us anticipate — and avoid — danger. Good worry leads to constructive action.
When you find yourself in bed at night, tossing and turning, plowing the same field again and again, you’re in the midst of worry of the worst kind: self-perpetuating. The more you worry, the more stress chemicals feed back to the brain, telling it to worry more.
When you find yourself mired in this worry bog, there are a few things you can do. One of the best options is to imagine letting all your worries go into a container. Imagine a strong container with a lid and a latch that can hold your worries for a while so you can rest. When you’re ready, you can take them out one at a time and deal with them.
In addition to your container, a great daytime option is to get physical. Get up and move around. Action will temporarily relieve the worrying. Who knows, when you come back to the problem, you may have a better perspective on it!
Taking a walk, working out, going for a bike ride or a run can help relieve worry. Exercise increases blood flow, meaning more oxygen to the brain. Exercising regularly means you will probably worry less.
Try writing down your worries in a journal.
Simply writing your fears and concerns down takes some of the power out of them and gives you a sense of control. Writing your worries also gives you an opportunity to write possible solutions. Try this: write down the worry and — without thought to how workable or realistic the solutions are — write them down as fast as they come to mind. Don’t stop to think, just write idea after idea. Given this creative outlet, the same brain that was nagging you with worries, can offer ingenious — and often elegant — solutions.
Create a gratitude list.
It doesn’t have to be long or well thought out, just jot down ideas as they come up. They don’t have to be big deals — the way the sun falls on the roses in the morning is just fine, if that’s what you thought of.
Another way to put your worries to work for you: tell a friend. Ask for feedback, another perspective or someone to simply listen. Giving voice to your worries can take some of the wind out of their bedraggled sails.
Turn your worry into action by getting outside yourself. Whether you find community through family, work, friends, church, neighborhood projects, groups or organizations, being a part of something bigger than yourself can give you a sense of safety and connectedness. Turning the focus from inside to out means there’s no place for worry to abide.
At times the counsel, advice and listening ear of a professional is called for — don’t hesitate to ask! No worry or concern is too small.
It’s certainly not as simple as that song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” makes it sound, but somewhere underneath its whining, nagging voice, worry might have something important to tell you.
Author’s content used with permission, © Claire Communications
Next Steps to deal with worry
For further reading on anxiety and worrying, I recommend When Panic Attacks: The New, Drug-Free Anxiety Therapy That Can Change Your Life by David D. Burns.