Worry zaps precious energy and motivates us to act against our best interests. When worry takes hold, our mental filter becomes clouded. Our mental filter allows our brains, when properly activated, to focus on relevant life-sustaining tasks and growth-seeking opportunities. When clouded, our mental filter negates what’s truly relevant and important for healthy growth and development.
Our brains function like computers, storing, processing and sorting through data at lightning speed, often on automatic pilot or on a subconscious level. However, when we are riddled with anxiety and worry, our capacity to think and act rationally is impaired. It’s as if our brains, our human computers, are offline. When this occurs, our logical, reasonable, analytical and problem-solving higher self (mediated through our forebrain) is hijacked by our mid-brain. Our midbrain contains our amygdala which regulates our emotions and survival instincts.
Functioning at optimum level, the amygdala governs healthy emotional regulation and our fight-or-flight response. The amygdala can help us to assess real dangers and take appropriate action. On the other hand, if you suffer from excessive anxiety and worry, your amygdala is most likely functioning in an overactive state, assessing danger when there is none or overestimating the probability of danger.
Freedom From Anxiety, Worry, Stigma
Excessive worry or anxiety can lead one to feel great shame and fear of stigma. The whole world seems normal while you may describe yourself as “crazy” or “abnormal.” Uncomfortable with having physical discomfort noticed by others around you may lead you to cover-up or avoid your anxiety and worry, for fear of being stigmatized, criticized or judged as somehow different or strange. This fear of evaluation by others keeps you on guard, suspicious and even judgmental of others. You may go so far as to avoid situations and people that trigger worry or panic, thus limiting your ability to participate in meaningful opportunities to challenge the very negative thoughts, belief, and behaviors that are reinforced through continual avoidance.
Avoiding discomforting physical symptoms associated with anxiety and worry further reinforces avoidance. As your avoidance takes on a life of its own and generalizes to new, even unexpected, situations, so too your belief in your ability to gain mastery over your life diminishes markedly. You start to feel boxed in, hopeless, and desperate for anything to take the pain away. Some people turn their worry and anxiety into isolation, depression and even anger. Others turn to various forms of addictions – sexual, chemical, gambling, codependency – as well as other self-sabotaging behaviors to self-soothe.
Feeling shameful and stigmatized by one’s worry, anxiety disorders, and depression can lead to the belief that one is “doomed to suffer through their discomfort and that change is not possible.” This negative view of one’s status makes it difficult, if not seemingly impossible, to take steps that can result in a shift in thoughts, belief and, ultimately, behaviors that challenge the status quo and foster change.
In order to change you must acquire increased awareness and clarity into the nature of your discomfort and be willing to take action. Awareness and insight into the nature of your discomfort and what fuels it the first part on the road to overcoming your distress. The second part is acquiring the skills to take action. These two components often require the expertise of a trained psychotherapist to guide you through the process of change. Willpower or letting time pass most likely will only prolong your misery and keep you from moving forward.
Here’s a few helpful tips for reducing worry
Get a good night’s sleep. Try a soothing cup of non-caffeinated tea, such as Hibiscus, which is known to relax and promote sleep. Establish a “gratitude list” of even the smallest of things for which you can be grateful and read it while sipping on you tea. Say a prayer, meditate, or listen to a CD that offers soothing thoughts and images. Tell yourself that nighttime is for sleeping, and that whatever worries you have can wait. Download and read aloud the Serenity Prayer, which will help you put many of your worries on the back burner, at least for the time being. Keep a journal that chronicles all the positive, helpful and productive things you’ve done for yourself and others, and read it aloud before going to sleep.
These are just a handful of things you can do to reduce anxiety, fear and worry. Try them and see what happens. If they happen to work, continue to do more of the same. As you progress, you can continue to introduce other skills that will, at the very least, help you gain some respite from your troubles and, hopefully, open the door to a new way of looking at and approaching life’s challenges.
About the Author
Irving Schattner is a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist with over 25 years of experience helping individuals, couples and families overcome real-life challenges as a therapist in Delray Beach, Florida. Mr. Schattner offers video and online therapy from the comfort of home, in addition to face-to-face sessions.