Worrying is ok. It’s not an illness. It’s what we do when life presents us with challenges. The trouble is that most people don’t do it properly.
Our neo-cortex, the more recently evolved part of the human brain, loves to solve problems. Yet, many of us are prepared to leave our older, emotional, mammalian brain to deal with them. Presented with something that feels a bit scary or challenging, our first instinct is to attack, run away or freeze; none of which are helpful unless we’re in an immediately life threatening situation.
So our emotional brain generates uncomfortable feelings, prompting the neo-cortex to worry until we have either taken appropriate action, or at least have a plan for action.
Most of our worries are actually the same old ones that go round and round in our heads. We have a repeating inner conversation that often starts ‘wouldn’t it be awful if….?’ or ‘wasn’t it terrible when…?’ Those catastrophising thoughts then generate their own fight or flight symptoms and we begin to get caught up in a loop of chronic stress. As more and more adrenaline circulates in the bloodstream, our heart rate goes up, blood pressure rises and sleep suffers. Before long, not only do we have the original worries but we start to feel unwell too.
There are all kinds of physical problems associated with chronic stress, such as back ache, irritable bowel syndrome, insomnia, lowered immunity, headaches, aches and pains, even chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. Over worrying can trigger depression too as it depletes serotonin. So it’s important to have a strategy for worrying well.
If over worrying has become a problem for you, try having a daily ‘worry half hour’. And if you do it regularly, worrying for just half an hour a day will make you feel a whole lot better for the other twenty three and a half!
How to calm your worry-worm
Endless worrying is like an annoying worm wriggling around in your brain, making you feel restless, anxious and stressed.
If you have the same old worries going round and round, the reality is you’re just not doing it properly. The worry worm (let’s call him Walter) will deplete your energy because his favourite food is serotonin, and he can eat double his own weight in this important feel-good hormone, making you tired and depressed.
However, worrying is actually ok and everybody does it. It serves a genuine purpose by motivating you to get things done. But you need to do it efficiently. Learning to worry well will make stress really work for you.
If anxiety has become a problem, set aside some time (no more than half an hour) every day when you do nothing but worry and problem solve. If you are bothered by worrying thoughts outside your worry time, say silently to yourself ‘STOP!’
Note what the worry worm is saying. Put it down on the worry-sheet attached and assure Walter the worry worm you will give that issue attention at the agreed time. Having reassured him you will be taking action, he can settle back down and stop wriggling to get your attention.
Our emotions really are our friends and are always trying to help us in some way. Walter actually has your best interests at heart. His instinct is to push you towards opportunities and pull you away from threats. But he’s not bright enough to have a strategy or a plan. Your neo-cortex will have to come up with that!
At the designated time, take a look at your worry-sheet and start to sort through all the issues. Write down any additional worries, problems and niggles, then use the 4D worry-sorter* to put them into categories.
Do, Delay, Delegate or Ditch
Do I need to ‘Do’ something about this?
Can I ‘Delay’ a decision?
Can I ‘Delegate’ this worry to someone else?
Do I need to ‘Ditch’ the worry?
If there is something you can do, do it! Make a plan of action and break it down into bight-sized chunks. Have a strategy. What practical steps can you take to resolve this problem?
Perhaps you don’t need to do anything right away and can put it into the ‘deferred’ box in your head. Can you delay making a decision and come back to it in a week, or a month, or longer? Put it on the back burner for now.
Or perhaps the problem is something somebody else can deal with rather than you? They say the sign of a good boss is one who knows how to delegate. Let’s face it, you can’t do everything yourself and everyone outsources these days!
Finally, if there is nothing you can do about it, even if you stayed awake every night for the next month, perhaps you need to decide to just let the problem go completely. Ditch it!
The secret of serenity
If you regularly confine and categorise your worries in this way, you’re putting a fence around your own stress and you’ll find you sleep better, feel better and have more spare capacity to deal with life’s inevitable ups and downs.
It’s something Buddhists discovered a long time ago, so repeat after me the ancient Tibetan meditation:
‘Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
….And the wisdom to know the difference!’
You can access the full work sheet here
Worrying well, the Rewind Technique, Mindfulness Based Mind Management (advanced MBSR), solution focus, guided visualisation, resolving addiction, epigenetics, mapping the connectome, polyvagal theory, the reticular activating system (RAS), secondary gain, trauma resolution, coaching for kids, treating depression, worrying well, working SMART, therapeutic stories, insight, psycho education, suicide prevention, affirmations, positive mental rehearsal, imagery, dissociation, goal setting, new paradigms, reframes, fast track learning, perception shifting, self actualisation, positive psychology, reframing, metaphor, personal empowerment, motivational thinking, lifting depression, the happiness principle, resilience and resourcefulness, human flourishing, anchoring, rewiring your brain, the STOP System, the SAFE SPACE happiness recipe, holistic coaching and working on the continuum of wellbeing plus many other professional theories, tools and techniques underpin the content of the fast paced, fast track, Fusion training programmes.