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  • elainesbelson

Stop Worrying FOREVER!

Updated: Apr 1

One of the biggest misconceptions about anxiety is that it’s interchangeable with worry. Not so. Anxiety is an emotion. Worrying is a thought process. Anxiety is a normal reaction to feeling out of control. Worrying is a coping strategy, albeit an ineffective one. Anxiety is innate. Worrying is a choice.

It saddens me that so many struggle with incessant worrying – interfering with sleep, disrupting their productivity, making them depressed. It’s so unnecessary! You may have heard of the “fight or flight” response. The sensation you know as anxiety is your body revving up to protect you from a threatening situation. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but so is touching a hot stove. It’s there for a reason. It’s how people cope with anxiety that’s the problem.

Anytime we feel out of control, we experience anxiety. The more emotionally invested we are in the outcome, the more anxious we feel. If you’re going on a job interview, you would probably feel anxious about making a good impression. If you start getting severe headaches, you would probably feel anxious until you obtained answers from your doctor. If you’re going on a first date, you would probably feel anxious until you got past the awkward introductions.

Anxiety is the result of three fears: harm to self or loved ones, rejection and failure. Worry gives people a false sense of control. By anticipating the worst, they reason, they’re more likely to avoid it and less likely to be disappointed. But if you lay in bed worrying all night what are you accomplishing? You’re not doing anything to fix the problem.

Consider my analogy of a hand on a hot stove. If your brain doesn’t tell you which part of your body is hurting, you don’t know to pull your hand away! Anxiety is no different. Ask yourself, “What am I feeling out of control about?” That you’ll lose your job and become homeless? That you’ll appear awkward and no one will like you? That you’ll be a bad parent and your child will be taken away from you? These are some of the fears I’ve heard from patients.

Then identify what’s in your control. The more you do what’s in your control, the less anxious you’ll feel. Once you’ve done everything in your control, worrying serves no productive purpose but to make you feel worse. Also, worrying is anticipating something bad happening or rehashing something that’s already happened. In other words, you’re not focused in the present moment. It interferes with concentration and productivity, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Worrying also undermines happiness. You can’t be happy if your mind isn’t focused in the present. It’s like going on vacation and thinking about work, bills, and chores. You wouldn’t feel you had a vacation. This is where mindfulness helps. It teaches you to redirect your attention away from worry, back to what we’re doing in the present moment. What usually gets in the way of mastering this technique is not poor concentration. It’s expected you will get distracted. Rather it’s the fear of letting go of an almost magical association in our minds between worrying and preventing bad outcomes.

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