How Not to Be a Worry Wart
by Lois Barth
“Worrying is Praying for What You Don’t Want to Happen”
This is how Carlos Anderson a minister at Unity Church opened his sermon over 10 years ago, and still stays with me a decade later. How often do we keep focusing on worry? This is not to say there is not an avalanche of concern we are all facing in today’s world. But the difference for me when I “worry” is that I perseverate on the same thing over and over in my mind, largely based on the uncertainty of the future, and fantasize about all the possible terrible outcomes that can happen. It’s negative visualization.
Concern or fear feels different. For me it’s like facing the fear, feeling the feelings, and then asking myself, “What can I change about this situation?” It’s always a combination of my internal beliefs married with an external call to action. When I go through the latter process, I feel empowered, because I’m in the present and am proactive. Worry keeps me in the future and renders me feeling small, scared, and stuck.
Today, I was listening to a meditation through The Daily Calm, a great app that I really enjoy. Tamara Levitt shared how the Winnie the Pooh series was really about all aspects of the Tao, something I never knew before. She talked about Piglet embodying anxiety. That Piglet kept his life small, scared, and stuck because he embodied the energy of anxiety. I was fascinated by that. I started to look at my own relationship with anxiety. It’s something I’ve both struggled with all my life, and have also made tremendous inroads. As my dear friend Victoria shared an expression I love, “Both are true.” Levitt went on to say that “Worry is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it doesn’t take you anywhere.” How brilliant is that! Today given all the things we’re all going through, I’d love to share, my own three-step process that I do when I’m feeling really anxious or even low-grade anxiety and start to invest in chronic worrying.
1) Stop. Name it. Claim it. So my anxiety/worry often shows up by overfocusing on something that is causing me tremendous upset. I have to take a breath and name it. “I’m just feeling anxious,” I tell myself. If I don’t name it, I delude myself that it’s actually worth my time and focus.
2) Pause. Breathe. Connect. I then need to stop, breathe and connect with where I feel that feeling in my body, and for me, connect with that part of me that feels really small, scared, and stuck. It’s usually a very young, very ancient part of myself that at some point felt helpless and fragile.
3) Send that anxious part love. I send that part of myself that’s showing up in my body, a whole bunch of love, compassion, and reassurance. While I never had kids (none that I know of- LOL!) I have a very strong Mama Bear in me that goes into major protectorate mode when a seeming “underdog” is under siege. I’ve learned to do that for myself.
4) Dialogue. I literally ask that part what it needs. It always responds literally or metaphorically. Most of the time that scared anxious part just needs to know someone gives a damn and will stop and check-in. I’m always amazed at how grateful people are when I stop and ask them “Are you okay? I see you’re winded, or limping, can I help?” They are so grateful that someone gives a damn or that they are even noticed. Well, it’s the same thing with the part of us that feels anxious. I do my best to really honor what that part needs.
5) Pick a self-soothing action to change my state of being. I used to just muscle my way through it and say, ‘Just focus on something else,’ but that was a feeble attempt to brush it under the rug. It ALWAYS came to bite me in the butt later! Instead, I either go for a walk, listen to music, clear off a shelf, journal, call a friend, or a host of other activities. It often only takes 15 minutes.
6) Take a proactive action. I find that so much of anxiety is focused on feeling out of control, so when I take an action that counters it and creates a feeling of accomplishment, autonomy, or choice, I remind myself that while none of us have control over many things, we always can make a choice, on our own and others behalf. What is your relationship with worry/anxiety, and how do you address it in a way that supports you to move forward in your life? I’d love to know!
Lois Barth is a human development expert, motivational speaker, coach, and thrilled to have delivered her first ‘book child,’ “Courage to Sparkle.” She champions women to share their brilliance and to live an authentic life. She speaks at women’s conferences all over the country and has been quoted in The New York Times,The Wall Street Journal, Fitness, Weight Watchers, and MSNBC.com to name a few.