Dr. Laurie on why worry has become more threatening than the weather itself
Where I live, the weather is a constant source of conversation this winter. Almost every client has a story to tell, or wants to commiserate about the cold, the snow, the ice.
But what I have been noticing is that this preoccupation for many people has turned into a low grade – or even a feverish worry.
Worry about the roads, the heating bills, the ability to get out an about – or worry about mobility, or how to get to doctor appointments.
The worry has become more threatening than the weather itself.
On the surface, worry seems to be benign. We habituate to a certain amount of worry. Sometimes it even feels like we are controlling what happens by worrying about it in advance.
But the reality is that a worry habit depletes our resources. When a serious crisis arrives, we don’t have the emotional or mental capacity to deal with it when we have been worrying about all the small things along the way.
How can you address this?
-Begin to notice your worry habit.
Some people use their mindfulness practice, others have friends or family help them become aware of their worry. Slow down sometimes during the day and see what is scrolling along in your mind, just under the surface.
One of my clients, Dan, began to pay attention to his thought routine.
“I observed that I worried about whether the traffic light was going to be green! I worried about where I was going to park, if I would have enough energy to walk easily to my appointment – once I began to pay attention, I saw that worry was a constant – even when I didn’t need to!”
-Create some ways to calm the worry habit.
Sandra told me she decided to let some worries go. ”When I felt I was approaching a situation with a worried mind, I put my hand on my heart and said, “You’re ok.” It sounds cheesy I know, but it helped.”
It may not sound like what you want to tell yourself, but these reassuring gestures and words help deflate worry. Find something that works for you – reassuring you that worry does not serve you.
Some people distract themselves by moving around. They empty a drawer, recycle paper, go for a walk, wash the dog. Any of these actions get you out of that old groove of worrying.
Others take a nap, or pet their animal or call a trusted friend.
Whatever way works for you – use it.
-Build emotional capital.
Worrying depletes our resources, so that when something significant happens, we overreact, and have difficulty dealing with what is in front of us.
Building emotional capital is the opposite of worry. It strengthens us so that we are less afraid, and have the capacity to make decisions and cope with adversity.
Each of us has a unique way to develop our emotional resources. Some people use music, or poetry or time alone.
Others need their friends, or animal companions. Some people like events that buoy their spirits – worship, community service days, support groups.
Still others have practices that remind them who they are on their best days. They give generously, exercise body and soul, help others in need.
All of these build our emotional strength and give us the ability to deal with the real and serious concerns we carry.
Practice letting go of the worry habit, and build your capacity to care for yourself and others when the real needs emerge.
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