What if we’ve installed the carseat incorrectly? What if my milk doesn’t come in? What if, what if, what if …
I come from a long line of worriers.
An overabundance of concern sits on my DNA like my brown hair and eyes, detached earlobes, and the ability to curl my tongue. The father of one of my son's close friends once told me that I worry more than any other parent he knows – a distinction of which I am certainly not proud.
Worry is not good for your body. Your body can't tell the difference between real-life stress and what’s only a mental dress rehearsal. A near accident on the freeway sends your sympathetic nervous system into high gear – your heart beats faster, your breath is more quick and shallow, your body prepares for fight or flight. When you worry, your body is filled with the same stress hormones with the same reaction. It doesn’t matter if the boogy man is in the room or in your head; the results on your body are the same.
If you're a worrier, you've been told a thousand times by your loved ones to stop worrying. But to us powerful imaginers, that's like telling Wile E. Coyote to stop chasing the road runner. We know worrying doesn't work, isn't good for us, and isn't good for our bodies or our brains. It’s hard to stop.
"Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.”
Corrie ten Boom
1. Recognize that worry won’t prepare you for real life tragedy. Write this statement down where you’ll see it often, like on a sticky note on your bathroom mirror or on the inside of your journal.
2. Stopping worry can be like trying to ignore a tiger in the room. Acknowledge the issues you’re worrying about – keeping a journal is great for this – and then try to let the worry go.
3. Find practical solutions for what you’re worried about. If you’re worried about a situation at your child’s daycare or school, can you make an appointment with the director or principal? If you’re worried about your child’s cough, can you call the on-call night nurse?
4. Notice if your worry might actually be anxiety. Worry tends to be temporary, controllable, and focused on a specific issue while anxiety lasts for longer periods of time, impacts the ability to function personally and professionally, and has a more global perspective. If you’re concerned that what you’re experiencing might be anxiety and not worry, a good first step is to check in with your primary care provider.
5. Start a small but powerful gratitude practice to crowd out the worry. Worry and gratitude can't easily coexist because your brain has difficulty focusing on positive and negative stimuli simultaneously. Your gratitude practice can be as simple as writing a list of five things you’re grateful for on a regular basis, like before bed or every Sunday. You could also involve your whole family by having everyone share what they’re grateful for at the dinner table each night.
6. Breathe and use the power of your parasympathetic nervous system to calm down. Just like Yoda lifted Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing out of the swamp, you, too, can use The Force within you to lift yourself out of the murky waters of worry.
photo credit: Photo by Chiến Phạm on Unsplash