This post is the first in a series on worry.
We live in a world filled with worry. We see it in children at school. We see it in parents concerned that their child may have a learning disorder. We see it in adolescents aiming for higher marks instead of an education. We see it at work. We go on the internet, we read the news and guess what…
Worrying is an epidemic. We take on new worries thinking that they will serve us. We even use the term in our jargon. We tell our children: “You’d better start worrying about picking up your room.” Managers say: “It’s time to worry about next year’s budget.” Daniel Peters, Clinical Psychologist reports that the term “worrying” has replaced the concept “thinking”. Peters explains that people don’t say “I’m thinking about this” anymore ; they say “I’m worrying about this.”
Worrying is part of the human condition. Biologically, we worry to adapt, detect danger and survive. Worrying gives us that “adrenaline kick” to ward off obstacles and move on. However, there is a kind of worry that is useless and draining; the kind that we ponder over but can’t change anything. It’s triggered by “imagined threats”. This kind of worry limits us from living our lives. It cripples us instead of giving us the energy to fight off obstacles, adapt and move forward.
In 1987, chronic worry, the kind that is persistent and severe, was classified in the Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) diagnostic tool as a mental health problem. Currently, chronic worry is the most common diagnosed mental illness. In North America, more than 40 million people suffer from chronic worry. Chronic worriers also suffer more from cardiovascular disease as well as immune and endocrine disorders.
Things we can do to avoid chronic worry
There’s a Swedish Proverb that says: Worrying often gives a small thing a big shadow. Question whether the threat is real, anticipated or imagined. Often, we worry about things that are out of our control. We might think that worrying over something that hasn’t yet happened can better prepare us to tackle the problem if it does happen. In fact, worrying over nothing concrete is a vicious circle; it can turn “worry” into a habit and cause physical symptoms that lead to pathological disorders.
Know the outcome of the perceived threat. Is it serious or life threatening? Prioritize your problems and work out a plan of action. If you are worried about what people might think of you, whether it is your appearance or how you speak, ask yourself if it is worth your while jeopardizing your time and your health over it. We are conditioned to respond to social stimuli, but we need to be vigilant when we label these events as “threats”. We need to weigh social stressors very carefully.
Take on challenging projects or hobbies. Meditate or practice relaxation techniques. Keep physically fit. These can help you stay focused and avoid worrying over the inevitable, the mundane or over what might happen.
Live more mindfully and in the present. Most of your worries exist in the future, so focus on things that you can change and accept the things you can’t change. Living in the NOW will change your thinking pattern, improve your problem solving skills and reduce unnecessary worrying.
When you communicate, avoid expressing an idea as a “worry”, especially when there is nothing to worry about. Choose your words carefully because there is a difference between “thinking” and “worrying”.