Do You Worry Too Much?

Some tips for controlling your anxiety.

Posted Mar 01, 2018

So you’re a worrier? How much good does it do you? What’s it like spending large chunks of your life worrying or anxious? The answer that I hope you’ll take on board is that it’s a complete waste of time! You need to do something different or you will spiral into a vicious cycle of anxiety, rabbit thoughts (they multiply!) and worry.  Every time you do this to yourself and it is you and only you driving this, you set off your flight or fight mode.

Flight or fight mode can increase your anxiety and if it is anything but short-term and genuine, it is both physically and mentally bad for you. Physically you are preparing for something that then doesn’t happen. Your stomach will shut down and fats will flood your bloodstream ready for action. You will have heightened awareness, you may sweat. Your vision can narrow and you can suffer from a dry mouth.  Adrenaline and cortisol are released into the blood. This is an acute stress response and if all these physical changes are not utilised by running or fighting, you are left with some or all of the following: heightened anxiety, an upset stomach, an inability to relax, fat in your arteries, tunnel vision, an increased pulse, sweating and a dry mouth—all the things that anxiety can make you feel or alternatively all the things you feel if you convince yourself you’re in a stressful situation and need to be anxious.

So in order to break this vicious cycle of arousal and fright we need to do something different. If you keep on doing what you’ve always done you’ll get what you’ve always got. So what are you going to do? 4/6 breaths are a good start: find a quiet place, the toilet will do, then slowly breathe in for the count of 4 and out for the count of 6. This will tell your body that all is fine, stop shallow breathing and in turn relax your mind. Don’t stop until you feel calmer. But breathing alone won’t cut it, particularly if being anxious has become a habit or your default position.

In transactional analysis, there are three avenues of response and depending which one you favor, the intervention which suits you will be different. You will either react first by thinking or behaving or feeling. Only you will know which you do first but here are a few clues. If you ask yourself what are your first instincts when you are anxious and the answer is to start thinking of solutions or rumination on the situation, letting thoughts go round and round in your head, then you are a thinker.  If you ask yourself and the answer is to wring your hands, eat, start pacing, kick a door down, rage or remonstrate, then you are a behaver and if you think that no one understands how you feel or you just want to cry or you’re overwhelmed by a feeling you can’t distinguish or you display hysteria, then you are a feeler.

If you are a thinker you need to start to examine how you feel—angry, scared, worried etc. and then when you have identified what you are feeling you need to behave accordingly, acknowledge that feeling and then address the cause. Go speak to the person who decides what you need to work on, or the person whose child is bullying yours or the man who puts his garbage in your bin. Whatever the problem is, you need to identify it, acknowledge your feelings and then be proactive. Once you know how you feel you can effectively convey this to another or acknowledge this and move on. When you have done all you reasonably can, then shelve it. This will stop the ruminations and rabbit thoughts. If your nature is to behave first then you need to engage your thinking skills and work out what your problem is and how you feel about it and then follow the same route, be proactive and when you have done all you can then leave it. Start to engage your thinking and avoid the behavior trap. A feeler needs to engage their thinking skills, too, work out what problem needs addressing and then act accordingly, avoiding the straight to emoting route.

In all these situations you will need to practice changing your learned anxiety response. You will need to engage your 4/6 breathing and when sufficiently calm to follow the above protocol. Any problem needs to be identified and then you need to take appropriate action—that means the smallest, least costly intervention first.  Maybe that’s all you can manage to start with. Maybe you just tell someone else what’s bothering you. In some instances just writing it down can make you feel better. Next time maybe you go a step further and seek the person in authority to ask them to intervene. Whatever it is, try not to hold onto it or get into the cycle you used to prefer; you are training your neurons to follow a different pattern. Take it slowly. Nevertheless, productive action is the key. Even if the action is just to behave differently and breathe better or to see a counselor about your anxiety or to tell your doctor. Once you get into better habits, you will start to feel better and to be able to differentiate between things you can affect and therefore need to take action about and those that you can’t and that you need to walk away from. It’s back to the old Reinhold Niebuhr quote “Give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”