As Montaigne said, “he who fears he will suffer, already suffers because of his fears.” We pay a huge cost for worrying, physically, mentally and emotionally; yet research shows that it affects most of us in some way. So what is it? From its original meaning of ‘to strangle’, worry has evolved over the centuries to our modern definition ‘mental distress or agitation, resulting from concern, usually from something impending or anticipated’. It is constantly dwelling on and evaluating possible consequences and outcomes of past or future bad events.
Is it a good thing to do? The rule of thumb should be that if worrying isn’t getting us anywhere, we are worrying too much. There are many negative effects worrying can have on us. If we worry all the time, our life is doubt. Worry destroys our peace of mind as unpleasant thoughts and images constantly intrude, affecting our ability to concentrate and think clearly. It leads to uncertainty and indecision, leaving us feeling paralysed and unable to act. Worried thoughts create tension in the body. They affect our ability to sleep. Physical problems associated with worry include headaches, digestive troubles, high blood pressure, sickness and asthma. Extreme worry can lead to panic attacks. It diminishes the effectiveness of our immune system, and makes us look older too!
So why do we do it? Our minds are extraordinary instruments, able to take advantage of everything we have learned through experience as well as imagine what may potentially happen in the future to help us figure out what to do. Worry has been described as imagination gone awry. Because worry is a type of mental stimulation, it can become a habit and addiction.
Once we understand that worry is a habitual response, we can change it.
The first step to breaking the worry pattern, therefore, is awareness. Noticing the effect worry has on our bodies helps us recognise the triggers and identify our fears. It is then possible to actively challenge those worrying thoughts and change our mindset. However much we may wish to, we will never be able to control everything. So ask yourself whether you can do anything about whatever it is causing you worry. If you can, then do it; if you can’t then accept that worrying isn’t going to help in any way. Taking any sort of positive action is a better use of our energy, and just physically doing something can distract us from our worry. Taking even a small step towards solving a problem can make us realise it isn’t so big after all and help break that cycle of indecision, so helping us feel more in control.
By Michael Williams