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 


23 responses to “Worrywartology

  1. Although I have an anxiety disorder, it is not related to worrying. Mine is a chemical based problem. My adrenal gland is wacky. I’m more of a problem solver than a worrier. My husband used to be a worrier and now has the mental tools to work it out. The funny part is watching him cycle through the process because his whole cycle can be measured in minutes. He goes from all worked up to “If that’s the case, we’ll just do ….” in maybe 15 mintues. It’s fascinating to watch.

  2. When I was much younger, lo these many many years ago, I tended to be a worrier. Then my mom sat me down (ah, moms!) and pretty much said that if you can’t change something there’s no point worrying about it. You’ve only got so much energy, best keep it for things you can do something about.

    Made sense and I try to live by that rule. Most of the time it pretty much works, ’cause really, what can I do if an asteroid slams into my house. Yes, I did worry about shit like that.

  3. I never worried much until I had children. Now I can easily drive myself crazy worrying about the silly and serious things. It’s getting better as I’m getting older….no point in worrying until I really have to. I like the quotes at the end – very nice. 🙂

  4. I very rarely worry about anything – stress occasionally but worry rarely. I guess I’m just lucky that way, I take things as they come and roll with the punches.

  5. I worry about pretty much everything, pretty much all the time. I have a plan to work on that, but I can’t seem to get out of my worry world to make that happen. Sigh. I’m tired.

  6. We must be on the same wave length as I just wrote about this myself. I have calmed the hell down in the past year or two. Not sure how it happened. But I suspect three things cause anxiety for me: Situations, conditioning, and “natural causes,” (chemicals in the brain.) In the past few years, I’ve changed situations, I’ve moved away from the “conditioning” (anxious family) and now all I have left is the naturally occurring anxiety form my crazed, crazed brain. I feel so much better!

  7. I’m not a big worrier, probably because I’m a big planner. I plan for all the eventualities I can, and then I just have faith that it will all work out. And it mostly does – and even if it doesn’t, by then I’ve often planned what to do in that case.
    On the other hand, DD did not inherit that, and suffers from an anxiety disorder (curse her father’s family!). It’s so hard for her sometimes, because even if intellectually she knows that the worse is likely not to happen, emotionally she just can’t let it go. Various professionals have helped her with coping strategies, and though she’s not there yet, the anxious episodes are fewer and farther between, and don’t last nearly as long as they used to.
    It’s tough to watch your offspring deal with something like that, isn’t it, especially when we really have no clue what it’s like for them.

  8. I worried myself into two HUGE anxiety attacks – one when I was in my early 20’s and once again at the age of 44.
    Both had all the symptoms of a heart attack.
    I have rebooted my don’t worry mindset – but not completely successfully recently.
    Now the only thing I worry about is sex. I’m not getting any and I worry about that.
    But the big picture isn’t all that big a deal so I don’t really try to stress over it.

  9. My husband is a huge worrier and thinks I don’t care about things because I don’t get all worked up.He’s decided it’s because I’m Anglo Saxon in makeup while he has that whole Latin thing going on. I worry some but I don’t over react like him. I guess it’s hereditary.

  10. I’m better now, but I used to worry about everything. I’d even feel responsible for other people’s happiness and get really anxious if I thought someone was suffering. I’ve lost so much weight in the past, and sleep – that’s has worry manifests itself with me the most – loss of sleep. I do have some little blue pills I can take to get me through the worst of things, but thank goodness I seem to not need them much at all anymore.

  11. I used to be much worse about worrying over stupid stuff that I couldn’t control. But then I got sick with rheumatoid arthritis and I figured out pretty quickly that worrying and stressing just made me sicker. So, now I exercise when I feel stressed about stuff or like I should worry about things I can’t control. Who knew having RA could be so beneficial to my mental health? LOL

  12. Geewits – Good for him. I think I kind of do that too. Sometimes it takes longer than 15 minutes though.

    Friar – I know how much you enjoy inspirational quotes to help guide your life and assist you in making all those important decisions. Because really, if it weren’t for inspirational quotes and Oprah, where would we all be? I’d just like to add that something about the phrasing of your comment hints at sarcasm.

    Jazz – Cool. So one little lecture from your mom changed your life? I wonder if all my preaching to my daughter is making a similar impact?

    MM – Ya, kids can turn you into a basket case. I’m much more relaxed now that she’s almost an adult, but when she was younger I’d sometimes wake up at 3:00 am and think there was no way I was going to be able to keep her safe and healthy to adulthood. It just seemed an impossible task.

    Sean – How about your wife? Does she worry? Sometimes if one partner doesn’t worry at all, it makes the other partner worry twice as much. And vice versa.

    Finola – So, all my inspirational quotes didn’t help? Try the exercise I do with my daughter. It works wonders for her. You never know. Good luck with exorcizing some of your worry out of your life.

    Heather – Oh good. I’ll have to go over and see what you had to say about anxiety. All that good, good Dave lovin’ should help calm your brain down, too. Along with the Portland beer.

    Pinklea – Yes indeed. XUP Jr. refused to see any professionals; had no interest in talking to anyone. But she’s gotten much, much better – especially in the last 2 or 3 years. She still has days where it gets on top of her, but they are fewer and farther between.

    Lebowski – First of all – you’re such a retard. Second – if you’ve done everything you can about whatever situation you’re anxious about then all that’s left to do is sit back and relax and see how it all spins out.

    Linda – Ya, you either make yourself crazy over everything or you don’t. As I said to Sean though, sometimes when one person in a relationship is very laid back, the other one will have to compensate and get even crazier than they were before. And the crazier he gets, the more relaxed you get. Maybe if you pretended to be really worried about something, it would make him relax a bit?? You should try it once and see.

    Meanie – Ya, you seem like a worrier. It’s interesting to hear how many people have managed to dig themselves out of the worry cycle somewhat as they get older. Probably when your kids are older you’ll relax even more. Kids tend to cause anxiety in even the calmest people.

    Kimberly – It’s funny where you can sometimes find a silver lining, isn’t it?

  13. ME? A retard????
    You best be careful young lady or I’ll send our friend Orange over to visit you and annoy the hell out of you. And with it he’ll bring his friends “Instant Rimshot” and “Sad Trombone” 😛

  14. i’m a terrible worrier/stresser to the point of having the occasional anxiety attacks. not fun. and i know it’s completely futile, but i do it none the less. some months are better than others. biggest worrry? money (ugh) and the future (as in how will i retire when i have no money!). sigh.

  15. Lebowski – Stop it! STOP IT, stop it! stoppitstoppitstoppit stoppitstoppitstoppit!

    Smothermother – I once lived next door to a freelance artist – single mother of one child. She had a mortgage, a car, at least two vacations every year and always enough to eat and care for her child. She worked sporadically, never knew when or even if her next dollar was coming in and spent it as soon as it did. She had a big line of credit which would see her through leaner times. She freaked me out how casual she was about money. I asked her once how she could bear to live like that and she said, “Meh, so far there’s always been money when I needed it, so I have no reason to think it won’t always be like this.” Crazy? Maybe, but it seemed to work for her.

    Grouchy – Sorry I brought it up. Deep breaths.

  16. I think I’m broken. I vary rarely, if ever, worry about anything. My way of thinking pretty much is, I can’t control about 95% of what’s going on, so whatever. Take the recession, for instance. Dell shut its doors in 08. I moved out of Ottawa in 09. I may or may not need to move again before 10’s over. I haven’t seen an interview since about mid-09. But it has yet to actually bother me–I know I have absolutely no control over who does or doesn’t call me back. I just keep doing what I’ve been doing–fire off resumes, look for cheaper apartments, invent new and interesting ways to not spend every red cent I get before I get it, that kinda thing. And in the meantime, I get up, do my thing, go to bed, do it all over again the next day. If I get a job, great. If I don’t, oh well–I’m not dying, and I’ve still got what matters to me. Everything else is optional.

  17. James – It’s probably the best thing you can do under the circumstances. There’s nothing to be gained by driving yourself crazy about what or what might not happen. I’ll still keep my fingers crossed for you.

  18. I have my moments of worry, for sure, but at some point I gain a lot of clarity and I realize that worry is nothing more than a fear of things that aren’t even real, things that haven’t even happened. Why bother?

    Sometimes I forget, though. Remind me about all of this tomorrow.

  19. I’m afraid I have to admit that I am a worrier, hence the name I chose for my blog. That was my nicname in high school given to me by a good friend. I’m trying to work on it, but it’s not easy sometimes considering how things can go. I guess I worry in thge hopes of making it better, but I’ve learned that unfortunately, there are some things we just arent’ going to be able to make better, or right no matter how hard we try. So I have resorted to trying to make something positive out of what could happen after worrying about it for a while. I’ll get there even if it does take some time.

  20. Jessica – I think it often takes time to learn how to cope with things that are innate. Some people are just born more fretful than others and it takes years of experience learning what works and doesn’t work well for you. Good luck!!