Dear Worrier

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.

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Dear Worrier,

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.

Most Sincerely,

Your name here

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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.

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24 thoughts on “Dear Worrier

  1. Oh man does that sounds familiar. I used to be that kind of worrier but now, like you, I have it down to “sometimes” as opposed to “all the time”. I definitely remember being told to set aside worry time and thinking “ummm…what?” and I must admit I didn’t try it. But I will keep it in mind should things get worse again (let’s hope not though!). Thanks for sharing!

    • Woohoo, doesn’t it feel so much better to only be a part-time worrier as opposed to a full-time, underpaid, over exhausted worrier? haha! Like I said to someone up above, I think the whole idea of “setting aside time to worry” works because you feel so silly when you plan your worrying, that you don’t end up doing it at all. At least that’s what has happened with me! I end up laughing and feel like I’d rather not waste 15 minutes worrying. Amazing! Glad you liked the letter thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Pingback: Night Terrors and 3 a.m. Visits | The Other Courtney

  3. Reblogged this on I'm not stalking you. and commented:
    This is a great post from The Other Courtney. She has lots of insights into sleepwalking, eczema, and anxiety. Oh, and she is damn funny too. This is a post about worrying and it sounded like something that might be helpful to me, so I printed it and am also reblogging it. I hope you find it useful too.

  4. Wow. I can relate to every numbered point in that letter. When I stop worrying to work on my novel or watch TV or go to the store, I feel like I am shirking my worrying duties. I feel like I am hiding from my pre-destined job to worry. Ugh. My stomach hurts just worrying and writing this comment.

    Currently neither my husband nor I have a job at present. I try to over-analyze if he got this job and I got that job and who would care for our son. It is all the future–how am I supposed to correctly predict the future! I have probably even lost out on some jobs trying to predict available work hours and schedules.

    Thank you for this letter. I will have to print it out. Be thankful you have access to the help of a therapist.

    • YES. I am probably going to post another handout that Ken gave me on worrying since several people seemed to really enjoy this letter. This is one of the points from the other paper:

      “People may worry because they superstitiously believe that if they worry about something, it won’t happen. Others may worry because if the event does come to pass, they can say “See? I told you that would happen.””

      I posted it in one of the above comments too, but UGH how true is that? At least it is for me, and its a terrible habit. It will forever keep you playing the victim and feeling sorry for yourself.

      You’re exactly right about not being able to predict the future- so there’s not point in trying. Also, us worriers tend to go to worst case scenario which SO rarely actually happens! Good luck with your job situation, I know something will work out for you and it will be perfectly timed. Have you ever read “The Secret”? As cheesy at it is, I really think there is something to it. The whole idea of “thoughts become things” and the power of visualizing who you want to be, what you want in life, etc… My family is big into it (my therapist recommended it, too) and we’ve seen some amazing results that are just too big to be coincidental.

      • I found the book “The Secret” to be very repetitive and that distracted me from the message. But later I got a “The Secret” desk calendar, and found that a great way to digest the information and be able to tape up the best entries around me to remind me every day:)

        • You know it’s funny you say that about “The Secret”, I actually thought the same thing! While I promote it and recommend it to people, I actually couldn’t finish it – but I LOVED some of the ideas. I think your calendar sounds perfect, it’s like the cliffnotes version 🙂

  5. Thanks for posting this Court. I have noticed I worry in cycles and when it is bad.. it is insomnia and stressed-out hell. I’m going to try this!

    • I’m glad you liked it, Heather! It has helped me SO much. You’re right – worry is a vicious cycle and it can be so hard to break. Here’s to breaking those worry cycles!!

    • Glad it helped you today!! It is a daily struggle and always will be. I think that one of the reasons the “set aside time to worry” idea works is because once you finally say “okay now is my 15 minutes to worry”, it feels SO silly. I did it twice today and ended up laughing out loud and realizing I really didn’t have anything I felt like worrying about. Amazing how that happens. Cheers, fellow worrier 🙂

  6. Thanks for a great thought to start the week — especially when there are so many of us who are thinking of all the things that could go wrong this week!! :/ A great reminder that obsessive worry is actually a control issue — in that we worry because we can’t control the outcomes. I love what Jesus said about anxiety and worry — He referenced God’s tender care for the ” birds of the air” and the elegant yet simple way that God “clothes the grass of the field” — and asks us to learn the deep truth to not worry about tomorrow but seek Him. Love you, Courtney!!

    • Well, I imagine with your job you worry about A LOT more than the rest of society does. So thank you for taking that burden and keeping us safe 🙂 I also love that verse, thank you for reminding me of it! You’re such a good peace maker and encourager, love you!

    • Well I hope she likes it then! There are just SO many things to worry about in life so it’s easy to do…but I guess the point of this letter is…why? One of the other papers that my therapist gave me on worrying says:

      “People may worry because they superstitiously believe that if they worry about something, it won’t happen. Others may worry because if the event does come to pass, they can say “See? I told you that would happen.””

      That almost brought me to tears- it is so true. Just realizing that is huge in overcoming worry.

    • A lot of us are, I can see that from the comments on here! It’s funny, you probably work with, live with, and talk to so many people a day who SEEM totally calm and fine, but they are worry warts on the inside. Good to know we’re not alone. I hope the letter helps you the way it has me!

  7. I am a total chronic worrier! In fact, if I ever have a moment where I’m not worrying, I get really anxious, because I feel like I’m forgetting to worry about something! Most of the time, I am planning out how I will handle worst-case scenarios (e.g. losing a job, living on one income, etc. you wouldn’t believe the number of budget spreadsheets I have for these crazy worst-case scenarios, LOL). But I do tend to dwell on it and it makes me anxious, sometimes depressed.. I KNOW intellectually that worrying is ineffective at best and damaging at worst, but it’s so hard to stop! Thanks for posting this!

    • “In fact, if I ever have a moment where I’m not worrying, I get really anxious, because I feel like I’m forgetting to worry about something!”

      –This is totally me!

      • hahaahh YEP that line is me, too!!! I’ll start going through my checklist and thinking “okay hmmmm what can I worry about? It isn’t my throat closing because I haven’t eaten recently, so maybe it’s one of my loved ones dying, yeah THAT’S a good one!” SO ridiculous, but once you realize your doing it, it’s easier to stop. Glad you can relate to the letter, I hope it helps!!

  8. Great suggestions. I don’t think I am in the 15% although I was worrying a lot when my health was at its worse: What if I don’t get better? What if I can never eat any more foods than I have right now? What if the “safe house” my husband is working on won’t be safe?

    I am so glad you found this letter, shared it, and most importantly still feel its usefullness.

    • Well, I think it’s fair to worry a little bit when your health is struggling. It’s scary!! Not knowing what to expect where your body is concerned is very scary. And things have a way of working out, they always do. Sometimes it wouldn’t be your FIRST choice, but it works out. Thanks for your thoughts!

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