If you know me and you know my family then it isn’t any mystery how I became a worrier. My mother and father did a great job instilling in me the need to be fearful of the world. My father was a workaholic and constantly trying to get the praise of his superiors. Though he rose in the ranks and ended up holding a position he longed for, he was still unhappy. He couldn’t settle into his success. My mother was a good people pleaser and that woman could keep a house clean I tell ya! OCD prep school. That was my childhood. She never sat down. She scurried around. So she was never settled either.
I think that is a key piece of worry.
Not being able to settle yourself.
I recall when I had a music gig on my calendar. I am not a great or proficient drummer, but I like playing with other people and strangely, I enjoy the learning curve involved with starting a new song and challenging myself to play live. So even with the positives associated with this gig, and the gratitude I have for the other women who I had practiced with for months, I still laid awake at night and worried about playing music for other people.
Most people would say that is understandable. Being on stage is intimidating, but its really more than that. Its what is running incessantly in my mind that makes me feel like someone set a herd of hamsters lose in my chest cavity.
Will I be good enough?
Will I be judged?
The belief at the core of worry is: Am I okay?
Will you still like me after this?
Will I be rejected and then feel really hard and intense feelings of sadness, loneliness and FEAR.
I worry because I am not sure what is going to happen. And I am concerned that I won’t be prepared for what actually does happen.
It’s a feeling inside of incapability.
And distrust in myself. Sometimes it can be subtle. Just a flutter in my chest or stomach that says, “uh oh…you sure about this?” And sometimes the worry and anxious feelings completely dominant my existence. And keep me up at night running scenarios.
No one I know likes the feeling of uncertainty. Most of us want to control things. We plan and prepare and rehearse and wring our hands in an attempt to decrease that awful feeling of powerlessness.
But that kind of worry is unproductive.
Planning and rehearsing have their place. But only if they are helping us know a subject better, or feel more confident in a presentation, etc.
Fretting and hand wringing is a type of worry that doesn’t create any traction. Its simply spinning in circles.
So how do we help ourselves when we have the unproductive type of worry?
We learn to listen to ourselves. (If you have read anything I have written, you could have predicted I would say this!)
Turning inward isn’t the automatic go-to response when it comes to worry, but unless we want to spin around in our minds until we exhaust ourselves, I suggest considering these options:
We might need to talk things out with someone. (Its nice to first have someone listen TO US, then we can listen to ourselves talking.)
We might need to move our bodies. Take a walk in the woods. Get on the floor and do yoga.
We might need to snuggle with our dog on the floor and smell their insanely cute Frito smelling feet.
We might need to focus on our breathing and help our nervous system relax a little.
See here for several breathing exercises.
We might actually need to vacuum the entire house and clean the baseboards. Okay. Forget the baseboards. That’s just ridiculous. But we might need to do some task where we see results. That is fine. Your inner OCD part will love you!
Here’s what we need to sorta kinda maybe try to stay away from:
We don’t need to get angry with ourselves.
We don’t need to fix ourselves.
We don’t need to change our experience. (Whew. That is a big one to explore.)
We just need to hear the worry out. Like you would a friend.
Most of us don’t want to slow down enough to get to a place where we can hear our worry or anxiety. We know it gets big and we want to avoid that feeling of being overwhelmed. But that feeling of overwhelm is like a baby crying . it needs your attention. It needs your comfort.
If there was a crying baby, or for me – a rescue dog – in my living room and I was somewhere else in the house and this little scared being was asking for attention and I told myself it was a pain in the ass and it needed to get over itself…wow, that is some serious harshness right there.
That is basically what we are doing when we worry.
We are trying to ignore it until it takes over and then when it does take our full attention, we get angry that it got that loud or that intense.
What is wrong with us??!!!
Why cant we just _______ (fill in the blank) — be more confident, be more prepared, be more assertive, be more whatever we feel deficient in.
That is like going into the living room and saying to a baby or a rescue dog, “hey, shut the hell up! Get over yourself! Control your feelings!”
You have lived enough life already to know this isn’t a good solution to worry.
To befriend our worry often takes guidance from an outside source.
The reason being…worry is like a vortex.
It feeds on itself and our inner critics thrive on it. That loop is hard to break on our own.
Until you can find someone outside your worry loop to help, try asking yourself this question to help slow the speeding tilt-a-whirl of worry:
IS THIS PRODUCTIVE?
Sometimes it is. Sometimes its good to think A LOT about something. To do research and talk to other people and sit with yourself to get clarity.
Most of our worry though…its draining and debilitating. But asking ourselves if we are being productive can at least take us off the ride temporarily.