Whenever I talk with folks about worrying there are three main themes that surface:
- It’s frequently a product of living with anxiety and always anticipating what the future may hold.
- It’s often seen as an expression of love or caring for others.
- It’s what we do when there’s nothing else we can do – whether because we’re simply waiting or because we’re powerless over the outcome.
The challenges I offer folks:
- To consider that trying to predict the future robs us of fully experiencing today.
- Worrying never benefits the person we’re afraid for.
- Waiting is hard – powerlessness is even harder, but how we cope with them is key to our well-being.
Concern vs. Worrying
If we’re going to overcome worrying; the first step is to differentiate it from concern.
To be concerned is a healthy exercise of empathy and compassion. Concern is best expressed directly. It shows sensitivity to the needs and struggles of our loved ones. Concern lends itself to healthy involvement and offers of support, collaboration, and reassurance.
Worrying is waiting for the other shoe to drop and telling yourself you’ll feel relieved if it doesn’t and prepared if it does. The biggest problem with this approach is the energy and time we rob ourselves of between anticipation and fruition. Worse, as the adage dictates, “Worrying creates the illusion of involvement.” It makes us feel like we’re contributing when in fact we’re only tying ourselves up in knots and sacrificing our health.
Worrying is the product of poor boundaries with self and/or others. In their absence, we disrespect ourselves by exceeding our limits and agonizing. We seek answers to problems that may never actually come to exist (the downside to predicting and preparing).
Too often, we struggle to trust that our loved ones can and will take care of themselves (sometimes with good reason). In these instances, we take on their problems as though they were our problems. Their fears become our fears. Their pain becomes our pain… and it doesn’t lighten their load one bit. It’s more likely that this leads to them feeling or believing that they’re an imposition and ought not to “burden” us.
Dread is often a consequence of worrying. It’s like experiencing the pain before the pain arrives. It usually involves a lot of distress in our G.I. systems and loss of sleep.
Worrying About Other People
Worrying is often a distraction. We subconsciously choose to worry about other people because it distracts us from ourselves. This is also common for those of us who live with chronic low-level depression (Dysthymic Disorder). Instead of addressing our own needs and feelings, we flood our lives with the needs and feelings of others.
We and our loved ones are far better served if we catch ourselves worrying and make a conscious choice to separate what we can and cannot do. Anxiety in all of its forms is generally learned behavior and as such is something we do reflexively. Changing these behaviors requires mindfulness – a choice to be aware of self. This requires acceptance of the responsibilities of coping, maintaining and at times regaining a healthy perspective.
In any given situation, we can stop ourselves and ask:
- Just how important is this?
- How would I suggest to a friend that they respond to this?
- How can I utilize my supports and avoid spending time in my head?