Worrywartology

Are you a worrier?

Almost one-quarter of us, at some point in our lives experience a diagnosable anxiety disorder related to worry.  And, half of us are just plain, everyday chronic worriers.

Being a worrywart can cause all sorts of physical health issues like higher risk of heart attacks, elevated blood pressure, musculoskeletal aches and pains, gastrointestinal problems, ulcers, skin eruptions, eczema, asthma, respiratory problems and shortened life expectancy.

In addition, worrying consumes our thoughts, making us less productive. It can affect the way we treat others when we become short-tempered with family, friends and co-workers because we’re so wrapped up in, and anxious about our worries.

The word “worry” comes from the Germanic word “würgen”, which means “to strangle”.

Apt, isn’t it?

My mother is a chronic hand-wringing worrier. She can get herself so worked up with anxiety that it makes her vomit. Then she’s exhausted and sleeps for 15 hours. Then she’s ready to start worrying all over again.

My daughter is a pretty dramatic worrier, too. I’ve seen her get hysterical over the smallest thing, worrying herself into gastro-intestinal distress, weeping and trembling with paralyzing fear.

It kind of scares me.

Whenever she gets herself into such a state, I take her for a walk and ask her three questions which she must think about and answer as honestly and thoughtfully as she can: 

  1. What’s the absolute worst thing that can happen in this situation? (e.g.: what is it you are so afraid of happening?)
  2. What are the chances, realistically, of this thing actually happening?
  3. If the worst does happen what can you or we do about it?

By the time we get back home, she’s feeling much better. Over the years, she’s learned to do this for herself when things start to creep up on her. So she doesn’t need me to talk her through it that often anymore. She can calm herself down before getting too crazy.

The worry gene definitely seems to have skipped a generation though, because I don’t worry very much. Sure, I worry about some things – but usually only if there’s actually something I can do about them. If something bad happens like an illness or a money issue or whatever, it can keep me up at night, but mainly because I’m trying to formulate plans for dealing with it. I don’t worry about the things I can’t do anything about.

There have, however,  been two brief periods in my life where I let myself get overwhelmed with worry and anxiety. Or perhaps it wasn’t so much that I let myself get overwhelmed, as that it just all became too much compared to the coping mechanisms I had at the time. I don’t know. But it did give me a glimpse of what a powerful and crippling force worry and anxiety can be in a person’s life.

 The main things people worry about are: their kids; money; job security; relationships and health – in that order.  Everybody worries and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. Never worrying about anything would be foolish. A little fretting often motivates you to come up with solutions to a specific problem, so it can be a constructive thing. If you’re just fretting without developing solutions, however, then it’s not healthy. The trick is knowing the difference. Like that old AA Serenity poem says:

…grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;  the courage to change the things I can;  and wisdom to know the difference.

One of the best things you can do for mild or moderate anxiety and worry is exercise. It generates a lot of chemicals in your brain that can calm anxiety. Even a simple walk around the block can serve to “reboot” your frazzled brain.

Of course, if your worries are intense enough that you’re experiencing panic or anxiety attacks or chronic anxiety then probably you need to see a professional for some extra help.

Meanwhile, here are a few pithy quotes to help put all your worries into perspective. 

Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.  ~Leo Buscaglia

He who foresees calamities suffers them twice over ~Confucius

You can’t wring your hands and roll up your sleeves at the same time.  ~Pat Schroeder

Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere.  ~Glenn Turner

For peace of mind, resign as general manager of the universe.  ~Author Unknown

Worry is a complete cycle of inefficient thought revolving about a pivot of fear.  ~Author Unknown

I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.  ~Mark Twain