Worrying is the emotional state of reliving past unpleasantries, or imagining future negative events, over and over again. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are times to be worried. But worrying unnecessarily can cause unwanted physical ailments. Scientists claim that concern, stress, or worry is a perfectly natural and normal state IF you are in immediate or potential physical danger. It gets your heart pumping and allows you to flee or fight the danger.
By worrying, however, you’re just reliving the past negative events or imagining future drama over and over again. Worry is characterized by the, “What if…” and, “If only…” thoughts. They haunt us before exams, during stressful days, or in snarled traffic. Imagined dangers and socially-conditioned thoughts like, “what will people think about me?” set off a state of anxiety that alerts the flight or fight syndrome just like real physical danger. It can also prevent us from making change or taking risks that might be much more beneficial than staying stuck.
Fortunately we don’t live in a time or place of real danger. But our modern world is full of “emergencies” and “perceived dangers” that we manufacture for ourselves through deadlines, personal and social conflicts, overwhelm, and with the negativity constantly spewed out by the media.
Since many of us put ourselves under continual pressure, our bodies just aren’t able to combat all the perceived threats. Having no outlets, like fighting or running away, our body absorbs the adrenaline and we begin to suffer real physical symptoms. These can vary from heart palpations, increased heart rate, muscle tension, to stomach tightening, nervous sweats, or even shortness of breath. When the perceived danger is over, the symptoms should subside, but many times they don’t. Some of my clients have gone to a doctor, or even the emergency room, frightened they’ve had an asthma or heart attack. The diagnosis is often that what they really need is to find a better way to cope with everyday stress and worries.
The mind perceives danger and wants to escape, but worry is not so easy to escape. A vicious cycle ensues because the more you worry the more your mind is unable make clear choices. Since thinking clearly is one of our greatest survival assets, we need to learn a way to eliminate worry instead of triggering a state that keeps us in the worry trap. We need to break the downward spiral by changing the tape in our minds and visualizing a better outcome.
1. Exercise – for pleasure not another “have to”
We know that running releases endorphins and other good hormones that help you release stress and feel better. Doctors agree that physical activity like running, bicycling, swimming, or walking on a regular basis helps you to sleep better and is good for your physical and mental state. But if you allow exercise to become yet another worry factor, it will undo all of the good exercising can do. By wearing pedometers, or heart rate monitors, and always pushing harder while not being happy with just moving, you inflate the worry – not decrease it! This might be fine if you’re training for the Olympics, but most of us use exercise to relieve stress and worry, not create more.
The key is to enjoy the exercise of your choice, and not allow it to become yet another thing to worry about. Agree to make exercising a “worry free zone.” Just feel good about moving. Allow yourself to enjoy the scenery or the company of others. Focus on your body and your breath while you exercise, and that will help to stop those negative worry tapes.
2. Slow down, take it easy
For many of us being told to “slow down,” is as useless as hearing “don’t worry.” The trouble is most of us don’t know how to slow down! Yoga and meditation are great ways to help you slow down and to bring a bit of inner peace and calm into your life. There are techniques, like guided visualizations, to help you slow down and stop worrying. Many of my clients find that listening to the guided visualizations I have made for them helps them to relax while also focusing their mind on positive input and suggestions. This helps them to both release stressors as well as to become aware of triggers so they can be avoided before they became full blown worries.
3. Postpone worrying
Another good tip is to postpone the worry. Write down any worry as it comes up. Then schedule a “worry” time. Keep the time short, though. Set a timer, and stop when it goes off! By having a list of worries, and a time set aside for worrying, you can forget them. You’re “fooling” your mind into forgetting the worry, thus breaking the pattern and, eventually, you will lose the “habit” of worrying.
Next week I’ll share some more tips on how to break the worry trap. In the meantime, if you feel consumed with worry and need help in creating a more positive and joyful life for yourself, then contact me today for a complimentary 30-minute consultation. Call at 1.415.819.8769 or email Joy at Joy@JoyReichard.com.