Friday, December 30, 2016

Nervous Nellie: Techniques That Helped Me Stop Worrying All The Time

I can't count the number of times someone has said to me, "When you're a mother, worrying is a part of the job." While that is true in some ways, we must also recognize when worrying begins to hurt us. Sometimes worrying itself can become worrisome, as it can lead to many medical issues. Today, we're going to explore several ways to stop worrying all the time, but first we're going to talk a little about the human mind and worry.

Because we have the power of abstract thinking, we also have the ability to think about things that aren't even there, haven't even happened, and are unlikely to happy. Our mind, while one of the most incredibly powerful instruments on this planet, can also make us think irrational thoughtsand these thoughts, too, are powerful.

Both positive thinking and worry have a powerful impact on the mind. When we think positive thoughts and truly visualize the things that make us happy, our bodies release chemicals that allow us to feel happy. On the other hand, when we think negatively, our body releases chemicals that can make us feel depressed.

It is not instinctual to worry—at least not when we worry for hours, days, even weeks. In the wild, animals have short-lived emotions that cause the body to release the proper hormones in relation to their current situation. This allows the animal to react. All of this happens within seconds.

If a moose is surrounded by a pack of wolves, her body will release hormones (adrenaline, cortisol, etc.) which put her on high alert and ignite the "fight or flight" response. In this situation, her "worry" is rational (it's actually fear but worry stems from fear in humans). However, you would never see a moose worrying about what tomorrow holds.

This is the same thing that happens to humans when we worry, but the thing is, the fear is often irrational. In humans, our worries can last for days because the fear is not real. Your body is essentially causing the over-production of hormones although they are not actually beneficial for you in that moment. Our thoughts convince our bodies that we are actually in danger. Instead of short-lived burst of hormones to help us fend off realistic dangers, we experience long-term bursts of hormones that cause stress, anxiety, panic attacks, and depression.

"...our thoughts convince our bodies that we are actually in danger."

Now, don't misunderstand me. Worry and fear are emotions that we have for a reason. If you're walking through the woods in the middle of the night, come across a bear and don't feel worried, then that certainly poses a problem. And if you're child has a stomach bug, you probably worry; it puts you on high alert so that you check on her, make sure she is hydrated, and so on.

Most chronic worriers think worrying is just a part of my life, when in reality, worrying is controlling your life! Take it from me, a true worrywart since even before I had children.

For me, worrying was just a part of me—or so I thought. I would worry when my husband left for work. I would worry at night when my kids went to bed. I would worry when my children wouldn't eat their vegetables. I would worry that I was going to overspend at the grocery store. When my worrying started making me physically ill, I knew I had to address it.

Here are some of the worry symptoms I was experiencing:

  • Muscle stiffness and body aches
  • Trouble sleeping and poor sleep
  • Feeling restless and "on edge"
  • Empty feeling in the pit of my stomach
  • General stomach issues (cramping, nausea, etc.)

To remedy my worrying with medication just wasn't something that resonated with me. I do understand, however, that sometimes medication is necessary for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), depression, and other disorders. I felt that my worry was minor and could be lessened with changing my thought patterns. I realized that just because you're feeling something, it doesn't necessarily mean your feelings are valid or that your feelings reflect the actual situation.

Basically, I figured that if your body can convince your mind that you or someone you love is in danger, it can also convince your mind that you're perfectly fine.

"I figured that if your body can convince your mind that you're in danger, it can also convince your mind that you're perfectly fine."

Of course, you might think this is the "just stop worrying" remedy, but that's not the case. You can't simply stop worrying and be cured within a few seconds. That's never the reality. Learning to stop worrying all the time is a process. I've developed a few techniques that help me when I start to worry about things that are unlikely. I have been exercising these techniques for weeks now and I worry less. Of course, there are days when my worry returns, but it's easier now to redirect my thoughts. I believe I will be using these techniques for the rest of my life.

I truly hope that these techniques to reduce worrying help you like they've helped me. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment.

Redirect your thoughts.

Easier said than done, right? Yes, I know. I don't mean to simply "snap out of it." What I mean is to be mindful of your thoughts. If you're feeling stressed out, pay attention to what you're thinking.

If you happen to find yourself thinking the worst, immediately redirect yourself. There are several ways to do this.

Positive affirmations.
In your head, repeat a positive affirmation, such as "I am safe," or "I am protected." Try to avoid using negative words or phrases in your affirmations. It's much better to say things such as "I am healthy," as opposed to "I am not sick."

Deep breathing techniques.
Deep, yoga breaths are the way to go when you're feeling stressed and worried. You can use deep breathing techniques for worry together with the other techniques mentioned here. Simply find a quiet place and breathe in a deep breath. While you're inhaling, feel the oxygen fill your lungs from the bottom to the top. Hold the breath for a couple of seconds and then exhale. Repeat until you feel at ease. If you find yourself thinking negative thoughts, just acknowledge and dismiss and get back to your breathing.

If you're good at visualizing, try visualizing your mind and body relaxing. Once you feel relaxed, fill your mind with images that make you feel good. Whether it's you on a beach, drink in hand or a big bear-hug from your children, the focus is on what makes you happy. Continue this visualization until you feel better.

Get busy.
When it comes to worry, idle hands can make things worse. Instead of sitting around thinking, do something with your mind. Mind game apps and brain teasers are a great way to keep your brain focused on something other than worry. Also, it helps prevent brain diseases later in life, such as Alzheimer's.

Be a productive worrier.

Obviously you're trying to lessen the amount of time you spend worrying, so this may seem counterproductive. Actually, what I'm saying is that when you start to worry, ask yourself, "What action can I take to stop worrying?" For example, if you're worried that you're going to overspend at the grocery store, put your mind at ease by making a list and taking a calculator. That way, you'll be less inclined to overspend and your mind will be less stressed. 

More importantly, stop asking "What if?" These questions lead to thousands of possible scenarios which could keep you up at night. Asking yourself "What if?" is often the precursor to worry.

Engage in your favorite hobbies.

A busy mind prevents the mind from wandering. Find something that you like to do and do it when you're feeling anxious. The good feelings that this hobby brings will redirect your thoughts into something that makes you happy and productive. Exercising, reading, writing, singing, dancing, and photography are some options, but my all time favorite?

Animals! Dogs, in particular. It's been scientifically proven that animals are stress-relievers because our bodies produce feel-good hormones when we're around them. Seriously, who could resist smiling after looking at this adorable face?

Be mindful of your social media habits and friends.

Perhaps the most overlooked issue in regards to worry are your social media habits. When I began paying attention to my thoughts, I realized rather quickly that my Facebook newsfeed was affecting me in a negative way. It was literally full of sensationalized negative news stories, arguments about politics, and posts about what people hate, dislike, avoid, etc. It was in that moment that I began distancing myself from Facebook and unfollowing dozens of people daily. I love my friends and family, but sometimes, you have to do what's best for your own mental well-being.

I started spending more on the aesthetically attractive Pinterest and began pinning positive images, affirmations, and things that make me laugh. I also created a "Virtual Vision Board" so I could visualize what I wanted in my life and remind myself to think positive.

How do you deal with stress and worry? Let me know by leaving a comment!

I do hope that you find some relief using these techniques. Please note, if you are on medication for your stress, worry, anxiety, or depression, stopping your medication could be dangerous. Speak to your doctor before you stop taking any prescriptions.

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