Last week, Isaac and I deep cleaned our house and I found an important letter stuffed in an old desk drawer. When I received it from my therapist, Ken, two years ago, it was a lifeline when I was drowning in a sea of worry and anxiety. Finding it was a good reminder of where I was and how far I’ve come. I know I will always need the letter, or rather need to remember its message, because chronic worrying is not something that just goes away – it needs to be worked at on a daily basis.
The letter is called “Dear Worrier”, and while it was probably given to hundreds of Ken’s patients, it felt like it was written solely for me.
Are you a chronic worrier? Are you maybe a chronic worrier, but don’t even realize it? I used to be. Sometimes I still am, until I remember the damage that senseless worrying can cause. This letter and the ideas presented helped me overcome some of my worst “worrying days” and have helped make me into the much happier and more relaxed person I am today.
I have been thinking (not worrying) about you today. More specifically, I have been thinking about the problem you have with chronic worrying. You’ve told me how you can’t sleep at night, how you worry yourself into anxiety and depression every day, and how you can’t allow yourself to enjoy life because of worrying.
It may help you to know that this kind of worry is a common problem. You may even be worrying that your “racing mind” – that unstoppable torrent of worrisome thoughts – is unique to you. Not so; one researcher estimates that as many as 15% of the population are chronic worriers. Doesn’t it feel a little better just knowing there are so many others who share this problem? Of course, it will feel even better to belong to the other group – those who are not chronic worriers! So, let’s talk about how to move from one group to the other. Here is some information that will help you:
1. Worrying causes physical and emotional symptoms. It can cause muscle tension, an upset stomach, a headache, back pain and so on. It can also cause anxiety and depression. You probably knew that already, didn’t you?
2. Chronic worrying is A HABIT; IT GIVES YOUR MIND SOMETHING TO DO. It’s entirely possible that you will have to learn how to be comfortable not worrying. For some people, worry has become so much apart of them, they don’t feel like themselves if they aren’t worrying.
3. You’ve probably already discovered that you’ve never solved a problem while you’re in the “worry space.” That’s because worrying is quite different from problem solving. Worrying is circular; it feeds on itself and gets worse and worse. It goes around in a circle like a merry-go-round, going faster, faster, faster. Problem solving, however, is linear; it moves forward from the problem to possible options to the solution. THAT IS CALLED THE “SOLUTION SPACE.”
4. Worriers are never being “in the present” when they worry. You are having visions of the possible catastrophes you will have to face in the future. The catastrophes are based on the fear that you will not be able to handle it all.
-Recognize you’re in the worry cycle-Interrupt the cycle by getting back in the present
-Use a relaxation exercise and positive, peaceful image
-Remind yourself that you’ll be able to worry during “worry time”, and worrying now is not appropriate
-Spend 15-30 minutes a day worrying
Here are two interesting outcomes that may surprise you. Once you’ve restricted your worrying to a specific time and place, you’ll discover that you have a lot of “time on your mind” to fill. You’ll also have more energy available to spend on other things because less energy will be spent on anxiety and depression. Now that you’re using your mind to worry less, what will you use it for? I’d like to suggest that you choose some great affirmations and visualizations. You can reprogram that catastrophic thinking you’ve been doing with some healthy pictures and self-talk. After all, we are free to choose what we hold in our minds.
Please give these suggestions a try. You’ll need to practice them for a few weeks, though. They really do work if you’ll give them a chance.
Your name here
Does this letter speak to you? You’re probably a chronic worrier, too. Welcome to the club! While the suggestions to get rid of chronic worrying may sound silly (setting aside 15 minutes just to worry yourself silly), they actually work. I’m living proof of that! Give it a try, you might just love what happens.