“I’m worried.” How often have you said that? Been saying it more recently as we navigate this COVID-19 global pandemic?
Worry is part of life. In fact, I recent read about a study that found that people worry on the average of about an hour a day.
When something is important to us, we worry. We worry about ourselves. We worry about our loved ones. We worry about the world.
And if you’re also living with a chronic condition, then chances are you may also worry from time to time about health-related concerns. You may worry that you might forget to take your medication. You may worry about what your doctor is going to say at your next appointment. You may worry about how you’re going to feel if you get a cold. You may also have special concerns about COVID-19.
Worried? Anxious? Not the Same Thing, Not the Same Solutions
So, you may be thinking: Isn’t worry the same thing as being anxious? Actually not. Here are some of the characteristics of worry:
- Worry doesn’t have to interfere with your life or stop you from doing what you need to do.
- Worry is unpleasant but it doesn’t overwhelm you.
- Worry is usually related to something specific, like an upcoming event or a potential occurrence.
- Worry usually comes and goes. It’s temporary.
Anxiety, on the other hand, lasts a lot longer, hours or days. Often, people who are feeling anxious don’t connect their anxious feelings with a specific event. The anxiety is just there. And anxiety is often accompanied by symptoms, such as a headache, trouble sleeping, and inability to relax, among others.
Worrying can lead to high anxiety over time.
So, why worry? Because you’re human. But that doesn’t mean you have to live the life of a constant worrier. Here’s what you can do to tame those worried thoughts:
Put names on your worries. Okay, so you’re worried. What are you worried about? Something you might do or not do, or that might or might not happen? Identify your worries rather than letting them float around like dark clouds. It might help to make a list of all the things that are worrying you.
Identify the possible outcomes. Take a moment and think about how each of the things you are worried about might turn out. An easy way to do it is to play some “what if” with your worries by finishing this sentence for each one: “If __________ (your worry goes here), then _____________ might happen.” Keep in mind that each of your worries may have more than one potential outcome, some worse than others. Consider all the possibilities. Who knows, once you take a close look at the outcomes, you may decide you have less reason to worry.
Consider the solutions. Now that you’ve identified the potential outcomes of whatever it is that’s worrying you, then it’s time to take a look at solutions. Time to consider that sentence completion technique again: “If _______________ happens, then I can _____________.” Of course, some of the solutions may be easier than others. But at least by thinking through the alternatives, you have a better idea of what you might be up against and where you may need to put your energies. Plan A. Plan B. But what if you’re not sure how you would begin to figure out a solution?
Accept that life is uncertain. A main cause of worrying is the dislike of uncertainty that pretty much all of us humans have in common. We want to know how life is going to turn out. And want to be in control of how that happens. But we’re not in control. Life feels a lot more manageable when you accept that you can’t control the future. With this acceptance, what you can control becomes a whole lot clearer. In other words, some of the things you are worried about may not be solvable, at least not by you.
And keep in mind: Life is full of surprises. Bad things can happen. So can good things. It’s human nature to grasp onto the worst possible outcome and then worry about when it’s going to happen. Put the crystal ball back on the shelf. Stay optimistic. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Talk to yourself. A little pep talk, a few words of encouragement, can make a lot of difference when you’re caught up in worrying. Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can. Review what you’ve done in the past when you’ve had a similar worry. Recite any words of wisdom you’ve heard or read to help to calm you down, and to inspire you to keep going.
Review your foundation. Make a list of what’s working in your life. Your education. Job skills. Experience. Positive qualities. Support system. Your healthcare team. Once you’ve done this inventory, take a step back. This is your foundation. It’s solid. It’s there for you no matter what life throws in your direction. And if you also see a few gaps in your foundation, then commit to taking steps toward filling these gaps.
Throw in some tough love. By the way, worrying doesn’t stop bad things from happening. Just saying. If you’ve done your homework and look at the causes of your worry and potential solutions, it might be time to say: Enough! And find something else to focus your mental energy on.
Say it out loud. Expose your worries to the light of day. Sit down with a friend and talk about what’s on our mind. An objective viewpoint can give you some needed perspective. So reach out for support!
Make use of your worry. One way to avoid worried thoughts is to stay on top of your self-care regimen. If you’re doing what you need to do, then there’s one less thing to worry about. Right?
It’s only human to worry. And COVID-19 has given us all lots of new reasons for more worry. But you don’t have to give in to those worried thoughts. Stare them down, break them down. Accept what you can and can’t control. Focus on what’s possible!