Worry does not make for a better tomorrow.
I come from a long line of strong worry genes. My grandma and my mom are professional worriers. Oftentimes a conversation with my mom will end with a question like, “but what if they end up in a ditch somewhere dead?!” What? Why dead? It’s where her mind takes her, to the worst-case scenario. My sister also inherited this gene, and may be considered the queen of the worriers. Funny enough (well, to someone I’m sure), my daughter also seems to have taken on the worry gene, as evidenced by every other conversation that inevitably begins with, “but what if…?”
Somewhere, as fate would have it, my DNA slipped through the cracks and I take after my dad – the anti-worrier. His famous line, “it is what it is,” sums up the extent of his anxiety. He takes my mom’s doubts in and calmly listens and nods his head, as I’m sure he has learned the impossibility of talking a worrier out of worrying. Apparently, he has more practice than I do, as I am constantly trying to dispel my daughter’s apprehension with reason and logic. Which by the way is typically not helpful.
I am very aware of the gratitude I should feel that worrying is not my first reaction to a situation. Somehow, I have faith that things will always be ok, even when they aren’t feeling very ok at the time. I’m not saying I’m better than the worriers, just different and grateful because I don’t think worrying is very fun. I am seeing more and more now, as the person responsible for someone who anguishes to the point of physical symptoms, how problematic worrying can be.
Because I am always looking for strategies to help my little “nervous Nelly,” I wanted to share with you some tips that I have been slowly starting to implement with my sweetie. Here goes…
- Set aside worry time. Wait? Huh? I thought we were trying not to worry!? But allowing a scheduled time in your day to think about a problem can be helpful. You take control by deciding when and where you will worry. When your mind drifts to worrying at other times, you can tell yourself you will worry about that later (literally) and refocus. You can also use that worry time to problem solve so when it’s over you can feel like it was productive.
- Accept your worrier status. Worrying about worrying is not helpful. It will cause a small- scale worry to reach anxiety levels. Don’t try to force yourself to stop worrying, instead see #1!
- Write it down! Of course I would say this. I love writing everything down! But really, using a piece of paper to dump your worries has been shown to reduce distress. For me, writing helps me to process and just get it out of my brain freeing up space for more productive things.
- Work it out! Read between the lines and you will see “work out.” Exercise has been shown time and time again to reduce stress. It affects our serotonin (happy chemical!) levels in our brains and appears to work even better than medication for the long term. I for one know my brain functions so much better when I get my heart pumping, even by taking a quick walk with the dog or doing a ten-minute yoga session. If you are a worrier, or even stressed about something, try adding a little exercise in your day.
Realizing worrying is not productive is half the battle. Many of the things people worry about never happen! Which means we ruin today when we worry about tomorrow. So instead of using “what if” to lead you down some dark path (and death in a ditch!), try using it to wonder, “what if … something wonderful is about to happen?”