The earliest memory of anxiety I have is from when I was about 5 years old. My family and I were in church on a Sunday morning and all of a sudden I was overcome with the dizziness and sweaty stomach drop that accompanies intense fear.
My concern? ‘Who would open the garage door for me when we got home from church and I was ready to play outside?’
This memory obviously points to a young girl with an anxiety disorder. I share this story with you to highlight the early beginnings and depth of my anxiety. If I started this young, had decades of practice to become a champion worrier and was still able to get my worrying under control, you can too. Your anxiety may be genetic, stem from your childhood, or from a traumatic event.
Why do we worry?
- Worry will keep me safe and prevent bad things from happening.
- Worrying shows I care.
- When I worry, I am better motivated to solve problems.
What’s wrong with these assumptions?
- Worry will keep me safe and prevent bad things from happening: Actually, there is no way to truly know what will happen in the future and no way to stop what will.
- Worrying shows I care: Your actions speak louder than your words. While worry shows concern, it does nothing productive to help.
- When I worry, I am better motivated to solve problems: Actually, when you stop worrying, you free up space in your head to be a productive problem solver.
Worry provides a false sense of security that feels like it’s helping so it continues. In reality, it does more harm than good. The extra surges of the stress hormone cortisol released into your body when you worry wreak havoc on your health.
Side effects of excessive worrying
- Accelerated ageing
- Skin conditions
- Short-term memory loss
- Mental illness
- Common colds
- Increased weight
- High blood pressure
- Digestive problems
- Heart disease
Although I’ve faced many of these health issues myself, it wasn’t until life handed me a crash course in ‘when life doesn’t turn out the way you expected’; I was forced to tackle worry for good.
I found myself facing obstacles I never thought I’d have to. I’d battle one unexpected situation only to fight another. It was then I came across this titbit from Earl Nightengale’s book, The Essence of Success.
- Things that never happen: 40%
- Things over and past that can’t be changed by all the worry in the world: 30%
- Needless worries about our health: 12%
- Petty, miscellaneous worries: 10%
- Real, legitimate worries: 8% – Only 8% of your worries are worth concerning yourself about; 92% are pure fog with no substance at all.
Only 8% of our worries are actually worth worrying about. It was then that it suddenly occurred to me. Every hardship I had ever faced was actually something I had never even worried about.
This was life-changing. Of course, my anxiety immediately latched onto the 8% that possible could come true; but then something else occurred to me.
I had endured and had even grew stronger through facing every single, unexpected hardship. Life had given me a gift. No matter what came my way, I knew I could handle it and become better for it. This newfound confidence changed my perspective on worry.
Around this same time, I found a book that also became a complete life changer. How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie. I’ve read many other books about conquering worry, but none of them have affected me in such a profound way.
How to conquer chronic worrying
- Live in day-tight compartments. Heck, there have been times I’ve had to live in minute to minute- tight compartments just to make it through the day. There’s no shame in this, just be in the present.
- Imagine the worst case scenario, prepare yourself to mentally accept the worst and then calmly try to improve upon the worst. This gives you an element of control, a sense of safety and allows you to productively prepare and problem solve instead of unproductively worry.
- Analyse your worry. Get all of the facts, make a decision, and act on your decision while dismissing any worry about the outcome. Again, this allows you to feel more in control and take quick action.
- Stay busy: When your mind is occupied, worry is crowded out.
Even with all this newfound knowledge and change in perspective, it can be easy to fall back into old habits. When I feel my mind start to enter a worry vortex, I remind myself that 92% of what I am worrying about will never happen and pull out my Dale Carnegie book.
I also find the serenity prayer to be very helpful. ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.’
There’s a calming peace in these words and a reason it’s used as a cornerstone in various 12 step groups.
My wish for all chronic worriers in the world is peace of mind. In uncertain times, it can be especially hard not to worry, so I hope you were able to find some hope and help. Here’s a great quote from a man who refused to give in to worry, even when things were going quite badly.
And as Winston Churchill once said: ‘When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.’
Be a worry warrior. Welcome worry and rise to its occasion. You’ve got this.
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