Note: the following information was gathered from personal experience, reflection, and work with my own feelings. Take it as you will.
What is Worrying?
Worrying is defined here as largely a state of sustained anxiety towards the future or present, particularly with regard to perceived vulnerabilities.
Why is Worrying Harmful?
Worrying seems harmless enough – it masks itself as trying to protect you and your reality from harm, by constantly obsessing over things that might go wrong, getting hung up on uncertainties and vulnerabilities. That sense of not knowing if something will go “wrong” seems to feed worrying, and help sustain it.
The problem with worrying is that it brings your attention away from the realities of the present moment, and helps create an environment where peace is seen as a liability. Worry has a hard time letting go of things, so you can find yourself constantly out of touch with what’s around you, while you work on or merely worry about things that might be, things that you think should be, or things that seem wrong right now. There’s a lack of appreciation, peace, tranquility, calm, openness, and flow.
With regard to openness, worry is a very closed force. It looks to what already is known in order to formulate the things it worries about. It’s not sensitive to the flow of new information, and can end up seeing more work than adventure in life. It hangs on to what it can’t have, and inhibits our sense of newness.
Furthermore, worrying is an avoidance technique. Sensing an upset, stress, or vulnerability, it can look outward, trying to change life in order to suit needs it thinks it sees. Problem is, even if those changes happened, worry would still creep back, just for something different. The problem lies in an inability or unwillingness to connect with present circumstances, to confront the reality of feelings that live inside.
Lastly, it avoids the heartfelt feelings inside and good motivating forces. Worry, being focused on pain-avoidance, isn’t necessarily centered in the feelings that drive us, and in what we’d actually feel good about doing. There’s a vast difference between what we feel good doing, and what we’d do to avoid feeling bad.
But, let’s look at some examples. Say you’re worried about your taxes being done on time. Ok, that’s a legitimate vulnerability, but try to consider that some people could be self-assured about this, confident that their intention to complete taxes on time, along with knowing the due date, would be enough to complete it. Seen in the light of this distinction, you can see that there’s perhaps something else going on. What stops you from being self-assured? A lack of faith in yourself, a lack of trust? What’s the underlying issue? And if you don’t have faith in yourself, then why?
With the above example you can see that the problem isn’t so much taxes not being done, but a lack of faith in yourself, which may be more difficult and painful to solve, but that, if addressed, could give you lasting peace. If you don’t trust yourself and are able to finish taxes, then wouldn’t you think it’s likely that another worry would pop up soon after?
To recap, here are the major reasons why it’s harmful:
- Disconnection with feelings
- Avoidance of real, inner issues you’re going through, replaced by obsessive focus on the external
- Traps you in a state that is overly attached, outside the moment and flow
If you’re being affected by worry, the symptoms can range from very obvious (worrying all the time), to the much more subtle (obsessive behaviors). Here are some things that might be going on for you if you have trouble with worrying:
- Obsessively trying to create time for things and get things done
- Trouble letting go of certain situations when they don’t work out the way you’d like
- Anger towards people close to you when they do something with some risk to it
- Being a people-pleaser
- Obsessively trying to take care of others and tend to their every need
- Feeling stressed or guilty when you don’t work on something that you think needs to get done
- Little time in your life to relax, play, or explore
- Having a hard time staying still, or finding peace amidst non-action and calm
- Feeling boxed-in, and like there’s no way out, panicking about this, possibly with great indecisiveness
To heal worry, you have to first identify where that worrying is conflicting with other priorities in your life. One place there might be a conflict, for instance, is between your worry and your will to act with enthusiasm. Worry can try to interject itself between enthusiasm and action, with all kinds of warnings and considerations. It’s in that sort of dynamic that you can really explore the topic of your own worries, and figure out both what you want overall, and where the worry itself is coming from in you.
So, with this in mind, here is an exercise you can try in order to work on your worry:
- Identify something you’re worried about, and explain on paper to yourself why you’re worried about it.
- Next, look in your feelings for something that conflicts with your sense of worry. Maybe it’s an assured feeling that actually is not worried about the thing you identified. Have it explain its position.
- The dialogue started, continue the conversation, going back and forth between the two sides until they find things to agree upon. Things like: what the worried side really wants, what you want to do overall in this situation, what you can feel assured about, etc. Whatever the two sides contest each other about, look for agreement in those places. This can be found through letting them argue, explain, and challenge each other, rather than just trying to figure it out at the start. Letting things play out, while remaining vigilant for the truth yourself, can often yield the most thorough and affirming results.
- You should experience some kind of emotional relief, release, or settling by the time you’re done.
With agreement, you may have learned some important things about yourself. Remember you can come back to this exercise any time you’re experiencing worry, as a means to work through it. Changing a behavior, such as a part of you using worry as an avoidance tactic, isn’t necessarily solved in a single session of trying to address it. Your feelings and behaviors can change over time, but an exercise like this can help you in whatever intentions you may have to help yourself heal from worrying in your life.
“Don’t worry about it” – the False Help
Being told to just “not worry” only can add to the harm your worry does. You have to address the underlying reasons for worrying, not just stop doing it. If you ignore, deny, or push it away, it can go underground, coming out in obsessive behaviors like were listed in the Symptoms section.
Connecting with yourself, openness, sensitivity, acceptance of the reality of current circumstances – these will help you. Merely trying to “stop it” may give you some experience interrupting the behavior, but it doesn’t connect you with the reality of what things can be like if you really resolve it.
Benefits of Working Through Worrying
Here are some of the probable benefits:
- A faith in yourself, and self-assurance
- The ability to be calm and peaceful:
- with regard to the circumstances of your life
- even amidst great external turmoil, and thus, more able to make balanced decisions during trying times
- A greater sense of adventure and openness to life as it is
- A greater capacity to know how you want to act, and a willingness to go for it
- Joy when it comes to the way you live your life
- Appreciation for the chance to live and be part of reality
- Seeing beauty in life
- A willingness to be part of a life that is inherently uncertain in many ways
- Knowing yourself on a more heartfelt level
- Feeling connected to a way of living life that feels important and good to you
Anxiety – Anxiety and worry can go hand-in-hand, with anxiousness being more generalized towards reality or change, while worry can focus in on very specific uncertainties. But they can both be persistent and interrupt flow.
Relaxation – Deliberate relaxation can help you let go of a worried state and just be for a while. Can really be helpful when practiced over time. Note, you can get worried about not relaxing, but relaxing and help you become more aware of this.
Expression – As a technique, wild expression can help you key into realities of your feelings that may be a part of or behind the worry. Can help interrupt the regular route of worry, where it tries to control you into getting things done, rather than looking at its feelings.
Self-Mistrust – A lack of trust in one’s self can be a common underlying cause of worry. After all, trust that you’ll be alright, that your intentions are good and that you can handle or figure out whatever comes your way can go a long way in combating worry.