Home / Guest expert shares healthy living advice / Don’t Try to Worry Less. Worry Smarter.

Don’t Try to Worry Less. Worry Smarter.

Hadley’s intro:  Discover how to  heed the message

in a worry,  make a plan to solve it and let it go

with advice by Tracy Dennis-Tiwary courtesy of

The Washington Post.

Try these steps to make worry less of a burden —
locate it in your body, make it concrete, problem
solve and let it go
Advice by Tracy Dennis-Tiwary

When I think about worry, I think of the most
anxiety-provoking time of my life. It was 2008,
and I was pregnant with my first child. At my
ultrasound checkup, my husband and I learned that
our son would be born with a congenital heart
condition. This condition is fatal if not
corrected through open-heart surgery within months
of birth.

For the remainder of my pregnancy, I was almost
never completely free of worry: How can we get him
the best care? How will this affect his life? Will
he be okay?

Worry is the thinking part of anxiety, directing
us to figure out why we’re anxious and what to
do about it. It evolved to grab our attention and
focus it on the uncertain future, priming us to
take useful actions. Worry is a form of problem
solving, where we use “what-if” simulations to
picture worst and best outcomes to find solutions.
In that sense, worry is an attempt to control the
future. That’s why worry agitates us,
persistently or even relentlessly, because it
exists to engage us in dealing with future
uncertainties and working to make things turn out
all right.

Worry has to feel bad to do its job, but it can
make anxiety worse, especially when combined with
meta-worry — worrying that worry will spiral out
of control and do us harm. In people diagnosed
with anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety
disorder, or GAD, meta-worry often drives the
vicious cycle of anxiety. In an attempt to feel
more in control and less emotional pain, they
worry persistently — like a perpetual motion
machine of the mind. Yet, this juggernaut of
thoughts and feelings amplifies anxiety to
distressing levels, and feels so out of control
that it causes people to worry more and feel less
able to cope. The more one worries, the harder it
is to let go.

Doesn’t all this go to show that we should
prevent or squelch worry as soon as possible? Yet,
that is exactly the wrong thing to do. Suppressing
thoughts and feelings never works — and
paradoxically increases anxiety and worries while
reinforcing the belief that worries are
uncontrollable, and blocking us from figuring out
other ways of coping.

I discovered this for myself with my son’s heart
condition. My worries were constant and
exhausting, but shunting them aside didn’t work.
So I tried the opposite. I tried to use my
worries. Every time I worried, I went into action
mode: I read every paper published on the
condition, I asked our nurses and doctors a
million questions, and I imagined best- and
worst-case scenarios so I could plan each detail
of my son’s care.

Worry didn’t only prime me to prepare. It helped
me survive emotionally because I never stopped
believing that if I planned and worked hard
enough, our son would live and thrive — even
though I also knew that total control over the
future is an illusion.

Our son is now 14 years old. He loves playing the
piano, writing, running and wrestling. As his
doctors told us after his surgery, there are no
restrictions on what he can do.

Worry isn’t going anywhere. It’s the human
condition — and can be an advantage in
challenging times. But it also is a double-edged
sword and can become a serious problem.
Suppression of worry simply doesn’t work, so we
need other approaches so that we can learn to
worry well and eventually worry less. Try these
steps, in order:

=> Locate worry in your body
Worry keeps you in your head rather than feeling
emotions in your body. So, when you find yourself
worrying, pause and refocus attention on your
sensations. Look for the usual signs — heart
beating faster; weakness; warmth; stiffness; a
dry, constricted throat; rapid breathing; or
butterflies in the stomach. Explore them. Maybe
move your body to see if that changes how you
feel. Stretch. Sit up straight. Breathe. Practice
riding the wave of your feelings. They will rise
and fall, even without you doing anything.

=> Make worry concrete and contained
Next, tune into your worried thoughts. Treat
yourself like a friend who needs you to lend an
ear. If you have a jumble of thoughts, what’s
the one that rises to the surface? You can also
schedule worry time: Pick a specific period of
time to worry (for example, 15 minutes). Write
down all the worries that pop into your head and
describe them clearly and concretely. Consider the
negative outcomes, as well as the positive
possibilities. Only worry during worry time. It
might surprise you to find that during worry time,
you become bored of worrying and stop early.

=> Problem solve
Worries are diminished by plans and actions. So,
once you identify a worry, problem solve in steps:

* Brainstorm solutions that are in your control.
* Evaluate their pros and cons.
* Take time to think through your ideas.
* Make a solid plan to try out one or more of these
solutions. The more details you write down the
better.
* Start with small, doable steps. If you keep your
plan vague or overambitious, you’ll be less
likely to achieve it.
* Try out the solution and evaluate how it worked.
* Consider whether adjustments and additional
problem solving is needed.

=> Let go of worries
Worries send us into the future, and once we’ve
visited there, it’s time to let go and return to
the present. There are many ways to do so:
exercise; take a long walk; write in your journal;
paint a picture; or speak with a friend or
counselor. Social support — speaking with
someone you trust to help you put your worries
into words, rather than stew in a miasma of vague
distress — is one of the best ways to let go.

When we practice taking these steps in order, we
will find that worry can be a call to action, and
when we act, it graciously steps aside and tells
us — job well done!

************************************************

Worry may guide you to a problem that needs solving.

When you do. worry has fulfilled its purpose.

Give thanks for it, and let it go.

Hadley Finch

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