UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young
• I’ve developed a new philosophy…
I only dread one day at a time.
– Charlie Brown (Charles Schulz)
If I had to pick one thing that causes my clients the most discomfort, I would have to say it is worry. Anxiety is a more intense form of worry and can also have a biochemical component. It can also be a state unrelated to the external environment.
It is normal to worry about a biopsy result or when a teen is late and has not called. It is normal to worry about an exam or if the roads are icy. A certain amount of worry is part of being human.
It becomes a problem when worry is not just a normal momentary response to a troubling situation, but instead becomes a pattern of thinking. The mind seems to get stuck in worry mode. The worrying is continuous, but the focus of the worry can change or be directed to multiple issues.
At the core of such worry thinking is fear. Fear that things will go wrong, that we will not be able to manage, that we will not have control. Sometimes, worriers think their worrying allows them to anticipate and prepare for all eventualities. The truth is that worrying just does not work. The most terrible things that happen are usually unanticipated. Most of the things we do worry about never happen. In the meantime, we rob ourselves of whatever might be in this present moment, as we have filled it with our imagined, scary movies about the future.
It would be like going to see a great movie and then not paying attention to it because you were worrying you might have a car accident on the way home. Conventional wisdom would say forget about later, just enjoy the movie now. That is a wise approach for life in general, but for most, it does take some work. Those who meditate are familiar with having to keep bringing the wandering mind back to centre. In daily life, it is the same with worry thoughts. Yes, they will come, but we keep bringing ourselves back into the present moment.
While we work on that, there are some practical strategies that can help with worry. When worrying about an outcome, whether it is a test result or waiting for someone to come home, always envision a positive outcome. If we are imagining anyway, we might as well imagine something good. We will feel better and who knows whether in the quantum world our positive thoughts might shift the balance in our direction?
If an ongoing worry takes up space in your head, write it all down and then brainstorm solutions. Make a plan of action should the worst-case scenario manifest. That can help us deal with fears around an uncertain future. If the worry comes back, write it all down again. Repeat the exercise as often as necessary. Eventually, the mind no longer bothers with the worry because it is all written down and has been dealt with as much as possible.
Another strategy is to practise thought stopping. Set aside a time to deal with worries and that means, of course, writing it all down. The goal is to take charge of the worry thoughts rather than allowing them to take charge of us.
Finally, one of my favourite strategies when worrying is to ask, “Am I okay right now?” Most always, I am okay right now because the worry is about the future. And the truth is all of our real life takes place in the “right now.”
Gwen Randall-Young is an author and psychotherapist in private practice. For articles and information about her books, CDs and new “Creating Healthy Relationships” Series, visit www.gwen.ca. See display ad this issue.