Before explaining tactics that helped me stop worrying, it is important to mention that they were successful because I first sought the root causes of my anxiety and worrisome ways. In understanding the source, I was better able to eradicate the habit of reacting to stress with worry. Knowing why I worried and felt anxious laid the foundation to breaking the habit and forming new, healthier habits. It took time, lots of walks down memory lane, and careful observation of my reactions.
I encourage all worriers out there to do the same. Why is your reaction to stress, panic? Why do you dwell on things? Why are you living with constant stomach aches?
We each have a background story. Maybe you grew up with controlling parents, who also fretted and worried about everything. If someone controlled your every action and decision, it makes sense that now you worry about making mistakes or being embarrassed. Perhaps you are too scared to take any risks. You choose to stay home and not explore; to not try anything new and possibly fail, because this would be deemed irresponsible.
Perhaps you had a worry wart parent. Being raised by worriers means you observed the bad habit daily and learned from the example. If your parents fretted about finances and housework and what the neighbours thought, you likely are worried about those things now as an adult.
For some of you, worry may be equivalent with safety and love. When a parent expressed worry and heightened concern it was equated to love. The person who worried the most about a family member was considered to be the one with the most love. If you don’t check on someone constantly and worry about every move, do you really love him or her? If you simply trust the person to do what is right and make personal choices, does that mean you do not care? Some people really do equate love with worry. They feel parenting means lying awake all night stewing about the kids. To worry constantly about choices, road conditions, travel plans, and jobs makes them feel involved, busy, and protective. Love casts out fear. You do not have to fret constantly about someone to show you love them. In fact, doing so is suffocating and often causes poor habits in the person, either rebellion, secret keeping, or anxiety.
There are many factors that revealed themselves when I began asking why I worry. Adding to the list of “whys” is a traumatic experience. Serious illness struck our family and constant medial crisis became the new norm. We became so used to bad things happening, that the few moments of peace made us feel like something must be wrong. We were always waiting for the next ball to drop, the other shoe to fall. Not worrying, not overplanning, not controlling each situation meant missing something or allowing catastrophe to strike. Constantly being on high alert led to the habit of worry.
In situations like this it is common for people to become consumed with life and death. To fight the battle against disease makes everyday things seem unimportant and frivolous. However, to give up hobbies, to shut out laughter, to cease joyful moments is to allow the illness to take over in many ways.
I learned to be joyful despite pain. I learned to feel the deep peace during chaos. I even learned how important hobbies and silly moments are while being prepped for surgery. My mom can wake up happy each morning, although she is a caregiver and “technically” has lots to worry about. My brother can joke while convulsing. While others would wallow and despair, we learned that humour can lift us up. Worrying does not help the situation; if fact, it makes it worse. Do not be made to feel guilty for having joy; for laughing during a trial. Do not quit hobbies because someone is dying or chronically ill. You can be a good caregiver while crafting or writing poetry or practicing guitar. How could anyone craft or exercise or practice guitar when the person in the next room is dying? Well, why would you shut out life before its time?
In fact, having a hobby helps many sick people enjoy life, find value, and pass the time. Sketch on your good days. Watch a series and learn about World War Two. Let the caregiver go snowshoeing and return with tales to tell and wintry wonderland photos. If I had only allowed myself to be sick and my caregivers to dish out meds and help me shower I would not be recovering. I truly believe that. It was the moments of joy and peace and beauty that brought energy and healing.
Which leads to the next thing: some people like being martyrs. Complaining and worrying, pacing and sighing draw attention and pity. Why smile and put on a brave face when you can expound upon the sorrow? Why find joy when you can find sympathy? This is a touch question, and the answer can be uncomfortable, but are you wallowing for the attention?
Once the pattern is established, once the observed behaviours are realized and you determine why you worry, you can more easily break this bad habit.
Here is how I basically rewired my brain and stopped the second-nature reaction of freaking out:
- As aforementioned, understand the reasons why you worry. A few are listed above. A major one for me is my disease. It manifests itself in neurotoxicity. There is a physical reason for anxiety and worry. To combat this I have found detoxing methods. When anxiety mounts it is often a sign that I am toxic and need to take a break from treatment, focusing on detoxing.
- I am now strong enough to walk. I apologize to anyone reading this who cannot get outside. It is just an example of what wears off my anxious energy. I have always loved being outside. Fortunately I live in a walkers dream: the Badlands. I head for the hills often, where stress dissipates. I release my problems and concerns out there, and bring home peace and renewed energy. As I walk I release tension. The movement wears off any anxious energy. And the fresh air and sunshine clears my mind. In walking, comes creativity. Solutions to problems come to me while outside. I do my best planning, solving, and creating in the hills. It seems with each step I find more peace, more wisdom, more health. I return home with a fresh perspective and better circulation. It helps me sleep better at night, too.
- Comparing the good and the bad. At first I made a list each night, now I only need to write one weekly. I list all the good things that happened (and all the bad things that could have happened, but didn’t) in one column, and in the second column I write down all the “bad” things that happened. Most days the negative side is minimal. Seeing a bad part of the day next to all the good parts, minimizes it. If there was a catastrophe and the one terrible thing seems to outweigh all the good, I remember all the other terrible things I have survived. I pray for insight and wisdom in solving this problem and fixing it. If I can’t do anything about it, I scratch it out. If I can do something, I make a plan and deal with it first thing in the morning. I can research another medication. I can contact my doctor. I can apologize to the person I offended. I can ask a friend for help. But the bottom line is to dwell on the good and draw strength from that list. I sleep well when I have a grateful heart and a plan to fix anything worth fixing. The rest I watch dissipate away with the evening shadows. To break the habit of worrying, I adopt this new habit of focusing on the good.
- Face the fear head on. If there is something unpleasant that needs dealing with, I take care of it first, and right away. Before anything else on my to-do list I tackle the unpleasant tasks first. It prevents procrastination, and I feel proud after succeeding. It motivates me to keep going, making me more productive. Paying bills, taking care of registration, and changing oil in the car can all easily be put on the backburner. But within a couple of weeks the unpaid bills are accruing interest fees and the car is not running properly. It is best to just take care of things promptly. It prevents problems and worry down the road.
Before making any major moves or decisions take a moment to think of the consequences of others involved and sort it out right away so that there is not an over-reaction or hurt feelings. Don’t avoid tough conversations while holding your breath and walking on eggshells as you wait for a response.
If a coworker is going to be upset about something I am proactive enough to talk with him or her before the decision is made. As a teacher I have learned to phone a parent as soon as a concern appears. It is unpleasant to notify a parent of a failing mark or behaviour issue, but taking the time to keep communication open allows all parties to feel connected. Make the tough calls, take risks, dare to discipline, but consider all the people involved and the desired outcome first. You will act appropriately and nip any concerns in the bud. There will be fewer problems down the road. It is worth my time to communicate and problem solve and make tough decisions instead of sweeping issues under the rug. They always resurface and wreak havoc anyway.
- Rewiring the brain, talking favour, getting in agreement with God. There are many books on this concept, both scientific from the psychological field to Christian ideology. At first I thought this was New Age and quackery. But I did it anyway. I like experimenting. It worked! Each day I replayed powerful, positive messages in my mind and sometimes said them aloud. I created statements that I wanted to be true, concerning health, energy, protection, and wisdom. Now instead of dread, worry, and negative thoughts it is second-nature to say, “Things are going to be fine. I am confident. I am strong. I have dealt with worse and can surely succeed in this. I am recovering. I am blessed. I do have many blessings. I feel loved, inspired, and safe. There are answers. There are solutions. I am finding the right way.” These are just some examples of things that work for me.
Now I feel like my mind is rewired. My initial reaction is not always worry and dread and freaking out (still happening, still working on it). Sometimes I am amazed when the thought, “I will get better, this is just a step back” is heard in my mind on a “bad” day of symptoms. It used to be, “Oh man, I am sooo sick. I am never going to recover!” Or I will hear myself thanking God out loud as good things happen, because I am recognizing them, and because I am more focused on blessings than sorrow.
Beauty for ashes. Joy for mourning.