“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them have never happened.”
― Mark Twain
I’ve worried about so many things! Most of which these have never come to pass.
Mark Twain and I aren’t the only ones who could say this. We humans are hardwired to worry, even if much of what we worry about is unlikely to happen.
While awareness of threat has obvious survival value, our hardwiring is perhaps too sensitive for today’s world. Even a single angry or hostile word increases activity in our brain’s fear center. This causes a stress reaction in our bodies that over time can be harmful to health, and interferes with our logical thinking and reasoning abilities.
Worry is Something That We Shouldn’t Try to Banish
We can learn something valuable from our worries and fears. They may point to something that’s important in the present or from the past, allowing us to recognize our need for help and healing.
An unreasoning cloud of worry and dread descended upon me during my time of treatment for breast cancer. This lead me to get help from a therapist who supported me in uncovering and healing from the source of that worry. While sitting with those feelings was hard, what I learned and gained from them was important.
Worry that leads to positive action is helpful. Worrying about things that we can’t change and/or are highly unlikely to happen isn’t so great for us. Fortunately there are things we can do to learn from our worries and find ways to calm and soothe them.
Ways to Calm Worry and Learn from It
Just as our nurturing care can soothe a stressed-out friend or a crying child, compassionate self-care can calm us by shifting our perspective and letting us learn from and release our worries.
Here are some of my favorite ways to do this:
• Pausing for 1-3 minutes of deep, slow breathing.
• Using the six A’s of mindful writing. While holding my worries in mind, I respond to each of these six writing prompts. Doing this helps me acknowledge, accept and learn from my worries.
• Giving myself Reiki. Reiki, like other spiritual practices and energy healing approaches, is deeply soothing and calming.
• Laughter, which I can induce by watching a funny show or video, or by talking with a friend who has a great sense of humor.
• Creating and repeating an affirmation. Using positive, present-tense language, I write a phrase or sentence that describes my desired state or the outcome I want.
• Listening to soothing, relaxing music.
• Moving my body. Whether by dancing, bicycling, walking or doing yoga poses, this keeps me grounded in the present and brings all the benefits of exercise.
• Noticing signs of hope. Sharing these on social media moves me away from worry, and reminds me and others that hope exists even in difficult times.
• Taking action. When there’s something positive I can do about a worrying situation, I do it. My action, even if it’s a small one, might solve the problem, or make a positive contribution toward a solution.
• Practicing acceptance. I accept that there may be nothing I can do; that the most helpful thing I can do is focus on today, on those around me and on doing what brings joy, and what matters most.
Too much worrying isn’t good for body or mind. Yet worry is a natural, necessary part of being human, one that can be useful in coping with true threats to our safety and well-being. We can acknowledge worry and its companions, fear and anxiety, without being overwhelmed by it. Self-compassionate strategies for calming worry can move us to a calmer space, where we can reflect, learn, and if called to do so, take action.
What works best for you when you want to sit with, learn from, and avoid being overwhelmed by worry?
Sources and Credit
Healing Through the Dark Emotions, Miriam Greenspan, 2004.