What is worry?
Worry is a state of anxiety or unease. I think worry arises when something is presented that makes us perceive that we are out of, or could be out of control. It may seem like worry serves a positive function, and in a few instances this may be true, but the majority of the time worry just makes us feel bad.
For the purposes of this post, I want to address what I refer to as deep worries. These aren't the little worries that pop up as dialog on a daily basis. The worries I'm talking about are the ones that run deep. The ones that are deeply rooted in your psyche, and are typically swimming just under the surface, affecting your daily thoughts, feelings, and actions.
The reason this article even came into being is that for the past few weeks I've felt unsettled. Like there was just something bugging me, but I wasn't giving my thinking enough attention and time to notice exactly what it was. But then I did stop and notice, and I realized I was worrying about food.
This isn't new for me. In my teens I had an eating disorder. In my twenties I gained a lot of weight, then lost it. In my thirties I really started to pay attention to my nutrition. And now, at forty, I'm a certified health coach. And I realized just a few days ago that for a very long time I have been worrying about food. And the worry about food manifested as this thought: I'll get fat.
I'll get fat. When I had the ah-ha moment that this worry has been quietly swimming just below the surface, creating a seemingly non-obtrusive but sneaky deep worry, I made a decision. I don't want to worry about food. I don't want to worry about getting fat. But I also recognized that this has been a worry since I was 10 years old, when in 5th grade I was in the girls bathroom at school, and another girl asked me if I was pregnant. That moment planted a shame bug, a very deep worry, in my brain. And it's been living the life of luxury ever since.
So, with a worry so deep, that's been my companion for so long, how do I get rid of it? Is it even possibly to? And how do I not worry about my worry?
Step 1: Recognize the worry.
The first step to releasing a deep worry is to acknowledge the worry itself. You can't change what you can't see, or don't know. In order to see something, you have to look for it. And with worry, that might be hard, because we typically have a lot of other noise going on in our head.
One way that I like to call things out of my brain is to actually pose the question to my brain. I even like to ask it out loud:
"Brain, what am I worried about?"
You might be surprised at what your brain provides for you when you approach it as a partner, and ask it to do the work for you. Make sure you have a pen and paper, and write down the answers your brain gives you. Give it some time. If your brain doesn't provide answers in the first 10 seconds, don't give up. Keep asking.
At first you might write down more superficial worries, but if you stick with it and are willing to go down the rabbit hole, you'll find some deeper worries that have likely been your companion for a very long time.
Step 2: Decide if it's worth worrying about.
Yes, you, your higher self, can decide if something is worth worrying about or not. Now be careful here. Your brain might get tricky around this. It will start to give you MANY reasons why you should keep worrying about something. Your brain doesn't like change. It likes to operate efficiently. And if you've been worrying about something for 30 years, as far as your brain is concerned, that programming is imperative to survival.
This is where you have to call on your higher self again, the part of you that exists in your prefrontal cortex, or even outside your ego, where you can create awareness in the moment, where you can reason, where you can make a swift decision. That doesn't happen in your middle brain, or monkey mind. Your monkey mind LOVES a good story, especially if it means the possibility of keeping things the same. Energy is a precious commodity to your body and mind, and your brain does not want to put energy into changing something unless it absolutely has to.
But back to deciding if a worry is worth it, is it worth it to me to worry about food making me fat? No. It's not. Because it creates a negative relationship with food, which news flash: food keeps my body alive. It's not worth it to me to worry about, because I coach people on nutrition, and I don't want to have negative thoughts in my head about the very thing I encourage people to use to fuel their bodies.
But here's the caveat. By releasing this worry, that doesn't mean that I'm saying "Screw it, I'm eating all the ho-ho's!" Far from it. I love nutrition, I love knowing how food effects my body, and I love living as an example for my clients. But I am not going to worry about every single little aspect of food, and I am not going to worry about my diet being perfect. I know how to eat for my body, and I trust in that.
That little nagging worry, "I'll get fat," undermines that trust.
Step 3: Think of a counter statement.
A counter statement for a worry gives you a new thought to practice. So for instance, a counter statement to "I'll get fat" might be "I control my health." This is completely believable to me. Just stating the opposite, "I will not get fat" doesn't feel as believable to me. "I control my health" resonates more with me at this point.
Find something that resonates with you, but feels empowering. Now, put it to use. When you feel worry creep in, and know what thought is the culprit, take the new thought for a spin. You can even talk directly to your brain, reminding it of the new thought.
Brain says "I'll get fat." Your higher self says "No brain, I control my health." Even say it out loud if you want to. Say it over and over, as often as you need.
Step 4: Be vigilant, because worry is a habit.
Just because you decide to release worry about something doesn't mean that all of a sudden the neurons in your brain creating that worry have instantly shriveled up and died. Far from it. For deep worries, those thought patterns are habitual. But through vigilance, you can change your RELATIONSHIP with those thought patterns. You can recognize that it's just your brain DOING ITS JOB.
You are not the victim of your brain, although that is a very easy worry in and of itself to get caught up in. "I can't help the way I think" should not be a sentence in your story, because you CAN help the way you think. Changing the composition of your brain is like changing the composition of your body. It takes dedicated effort, that often results in pain in the short term, but is worth it for the long term effect.
Examples of Deep Worries.
In my brainstorming, here are a few examples of deep worries I came up with that are pretty typical for people to have.
- I will get fat.
- I never have enough time.
- I don't know what I'm doing.
- I will fail.
- I'm too short/tall/big/small.
- I can't trust people.
- I'm not attractive.
- I'm destined to get this disease.
- I can't control myself.
One common thread about all these worries is that they are beliefs. None of them are actual facts. It may feel like a fact in your head, and it's true that through belief we create our realities, but these worries are not facts. They are just sentences in your mind. And sentences can be edited, or changed completely.
As an exercise, if any of the above deep worries ring true with you, try to think of a counter statement, or thought. For example, the counter thought to "I will fail" might be "I will learn," or "Success doesn't happen without failure."
Unfortunately there's not a magic pill for releasing deep worries, but pulling yourself out of auto-pilot, recognizing the worry, and make a conscientious choice to release the worry will put you on the road to a more peaceful mind.
Would you like some assistance in rooting out your deep worries and implementing exercises to change your relationship with them? I can help! Just fill in the form below to get in touch.