Worrying too Much is Like a Parasite
No, it’s not an actual parasite, but many people, myself included, are afflicted with “worry worms” from time to time. Worry worms seem like an odd way to phrase it, doesn’t it? Worrying is like a parasite in many ways. It sucks away our joy. It takes away the enjoyment of the moment, and it keeps us from being present in the actual moment we are in. Are you guilty of worrying too much? I know that I am.
“You Worry Too Much”
I looked at the words on the screen in front of me and read them for the billionth time. “You worry too much.” I was messaging with a friend of mine and I stared at the words that my friend had typed. This was not the first time I had been told this either. The phrase had been one that my friend had repeated multiple times to me on multiple occasions. Was there such thing as worrying too much? I mean, worrying showed you cared about something, right? How could you worry too much? Was it actually bad for a person to worry?
The Definition of Worry
According to dictionary.com, the definition of worry is to “give way to anxiety or unease; allow one’s mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles.” Yup. That’s what I was doing alright. My mind was greatly troubled about some events that were going on in my life and I was worried about other people, their opinions on things that were happening and pretty much everything going on at the time. I was consumed with second guessing myself and bemoaning my lot that I could not make things any better for the situation at hand. My focus was on difficulty and trouble.
Thesauraus.com give several synonyms for worry and some of them are “ anguish, apprehension, concern, doubt, fear, headache, misery, misgiving, pain, problem, uncertainty, uneasiness, and woe.” How does reading those words make you feel? Re-read that list again and try to picture the words in your mind. I’m guessing that your mood is not all sunshine and flowers now. When I was messaging with my friend in the instance above, mine was not either. I felt pretty miserable, to be honest. Worrying was taking up all of my brain space and all of my emotions at that moment. At the time, I had not read enough on mindfulness to know that I should stop myself. It was turning into an aggressive cycle.
My friend was right. I was worrying too much. I was worrying way too much.
Why Worrying is Bad For You
I ran across a really great article on WebMD on the physical effects of worrying. Turns out, it’s not just your mind that suffers when you worry. It can start to become a chain reaction that ends up making you physically ill and triggering anxiety. When you start focusing on what might happen, your imagination can start to run away with you. It can start to make you ultra-sensitive to your environment and to perceived criticism. You may experience feelings of impending doom or develop unrealistic fears. When you start a cycle of chronic worrying, it can impact many areas of your life including relationships with others, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, and poor work performance.
There is a difference between chronic worrying and feeling a bit stressed and worrying about an upcoming job interview or a test. A bit of worry or stress can motivate you to better prepare for whatever situation you are facing. The type of worrying that drives you to do something productive can be helpful.
The problem comes when it turns to chronic worry where thinking about the situation becomes obsessive to the point that you have trouble thinking clearly or focusing on reality. Anxiety happens when a person has trouble shaking off their worries and may start to manifest actual physical symptoms.
What Physical Symptoms Can Worrying too Much Cause?
When the body perceives a challenge brought on by stress, it can trigger the fight or flight response. That’s great if there happens to be a bear chasing you through the grocery store. Most likely, that is not the case. However, our bodies are still reacting as if there is! The nervous system releases stress hormones that boost levels of blood sugar and fats to give you quick energy. You may notice physical reactions associated with this release of hormones such as a lump in your throat, dizziness, fast heartbeat, fatigue, headaches, inability to concentrate, irritability, nausea, rapid breathing, nervous energy, shortness of breath, and even trembling or twitching.
When there is (unfortunately) no bear in the grocery store to either fight or run from, those stress hormones go unused, and they are not nice to the body. Some physical consequences can be suppression of the immune system (achoo!), digestive disorders (oh my tummy!), muscle tension (can someone massage these knots out of my shoulders?), short-term memory loss (What was I saying?), Premature coronary artery disease, and even heart attack. They can also lead to depression, which is no joking matter.
Thanks, Dr. WebMD, For All that Cheerful News, Now What Can I Do About it?
I actually DO have good news for you here. Although there is not much that you can do about how your body secretes hormones, a large part of whether it leads to health problems or not is how you handle it. You can make some conscious changes to how you handle the stress and worry that will affect how your body responds. Pretty cool, eh? Some of the things that you can do are:
- Talk to your doctor if it has started to interfere with your daily life
- Exercise (Oh, c’mon… you knew that one was coming. That’s the cure for everything, right?)
- Eat well (No, the half- gallon of ice cream does not count.)
- Be mindful of your worries
- Learn relaxation techniques (Helps to counter the bear is chasing me through the grocery store effect.)
- Pray (There is NOTHING too big for God to take care of. The trick is to lay your burden down at his feet and then not pick it up again and carry it with you when you are done. He’s got this)
- Establish a strong social support network.
Worrying too Much is Still a Personal Struggle for Me
I wish that I could tell you that I no longer struggle with worry. How nice it would be if it was something that you could do this and that for and then it all goes away, but that is not the case. I still struggle with worrying too much. I find that my natural tendency is to try to analyze the problem, which means thinking about it in great detail from all possible angles. However, when my emotions are involved it is all too easy to go from analyzing to obsessing. When you dwell on a problem that you can’t do anything about, it starts to become destructive if not stopped.
You can’t solve Everything. Sometimes You Just Have to Let it Go.
My friend that I mentioned above told me that, as did my husband. I didn’t listen to them at first thinking that if I could just worry enough, care enough, love enough, pray enough that the problem would go away. That is not the case. There are some problems that you can’t fix. Let them go.
- You are not responsible for other people’s choices.
- You are not responsible for how other people choose to feel.
To you, those two principals may seem pretty common sense, but they were not to me. I had to learn them and internalize them. It is a process that I am still working on. I can’t tell you how many times I have repeated both of those statements to myself. The concept that I was not only responsible for my actions but also for my thoughts and feelings was a new one.
You Are Responsible for Your Actions as Well as Your Thoughts and Feelings.
I knew that my actions were my choice, but I just thought that feelings happened and that I had no real control over them. Emotions are HARD to control. They are not rational. Sometimes you do just feel things. However, that does not mean that you should just let them run wild. When you worry too much about something, you make yourself miserable. When I focused on my problems, all I saw was more and more problems.
It is ok to care. You SHOULD care! However, there is a point that you have to let things go. There is a passage in Philippians that I have read over and over and it has been one of the biggest things that has helped me to not worry too much. It says:
“Be careful (translation note says “anxious”) for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplications with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God which passeth all understanding shall keep our hears and mins through Christ Jesus. Finally brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” -Philippians 4:5-7
Steer your Thoughts Toward Good Things
I was amazed to find a scriptural basis for what my friend had been telling me all along. It is amazing to me how we often find exactly what we are looking for. When you focus on your troubles, problems, and worries, they become bigger and bigger until they consume your mind. However, if we start thinking of good things, when we show gratitude and think about all that we are grateful for, we start to see more and more of those things as well. When those thoughts consume your mind the opposite effect happens. You start to be happier, you start to enjoy life more and find more good things and things that we can be grateful for.
Things do get overwhelming from time to time, but friends, we have a gracious almighty God that we can take our troubles to and lay them down at his feet. He spoke the universe into existence, I’m pretty sure that whatever is troubling you is no problem for him to handle. That thought gives me a lot of peace. They may not be handled in exactly the way or the time that you think that they should be, but they will work out.
Eat Right, Exercise, Talk to your friends, all those things that you know you should be doing.
Exercise makes us feel better. It releases endorphins, it gets us outside and in the sunshine. It is a mood-lifter as well as fat burner. The foods that we eat can also affect how we feel. If you sit down and eat a half gallon of ice cream every day, it may feel really good as it is going down, but stop and think about how you feel afterward. Probably a bit blah. Also, in the same self-care breath, do not isolate yourself from your friends. We as people are not meant to be solitary creatures. We need human contact. When you isolate yourself, it makes you feel worse. (Been there, done that – again, I made myself miserable.) We need our support networks.
I have also found that journaling and writing, in general, makes me feel better. Something about getting them all down on paper helps. Sometimes things that I am worried about are rather personal and not something that I want to talk to other people about. However, I can and do sometimes write about them privately. I also pray for those private things that worry me. God knows all anyway; I may as well talk to him about it and ask for help. I have done this often enough to know that it works and that I feel better afterward.
Worrying too much is a very real issue that I am no stranger to dealing with. It can actually have physical effects on the body. The good news is that even though you have no control over when your body releases stress hormones, you are very much in control of how you react to them. You are responsible for your own thoughts and feelings. Worrying about something that you can’t do anything about is not productive. All it does is make you miserable.
Fortunately, there are things that you can do to combat worrying too much, such as eating right and exercising. Getting outside always helps my mental outlook, as does journaling, praying, and focusing on the positive things in my life. You are not responsible for how other people feel. You are not responsible for the actions of others. There is no magic cure for worrying to just make it all go away. If you know of one, please tell me! However, there are things that we can do to make it not so bad. I have found all these things helpful on my own personal quest for contentment and I hope that you do too. Have a blessed day and try not to worry so much; be happy.
If you would like to share in this journey of enjoying life more, loving deeper, and living a more fulfilled life than ever before with some encouragement in your inbox from time to time, please enter your email address below. Happy Questing!