by Rev. Peter K. Stimpson
QUESTION: I worry all the time. My wife says I have a bad case of the “what ifs.” I’m tired of being paralyzed by my own anxiety. Can you help me?
ANSWER: To control worry, you try to prepare for all the “what ifs,” but unfortunately you can “what if” yourself to death, squeezing all the pleasure out of the moment by pessimistically imagining what could go wrong instead of optimistically hoping it will go right.
Not all worry is bad. If you did not worry about passing a test in school, finishing projects on time at work, or getting gas before a trip or groceries before a snowstorm, you would end up in trouble. But, while good worry leads to constructive action, bad worry leads to paralysis. So, here are some ways to increase your power so as to decrease your worrying.
1. TALK: Instead of worrying alone, which only leads to your imagination spiraling out of control, talk to someone whom you trust and with whom you can share your concerns. This person can serve as a safety check, helping bring you back to earth when you are “making a mountain out of a molehill.”
2. THINK: Instead of wallowing in what could go wrong, think of what you could do to solve the problem. While I realize that your mind will search for the perfect solution, accept the fact that there isn’t one!
3. ACT: Armed with a plan, put it into action. Worried about your health, get a physical. Worried about work, tell your wife that you will be home a little later and get a head start on the project.
4. THERAPY: The above sounds simple, but my guess is that you will need more help in the form of counseling.
a. WHY: First, this will show you the roots of your worrying.
• Perhaps you had overcritical parents who made you worry that love was conditional upon good grades.
• Perhaps one of your parents imbued you with their own negative thinking with such adages as “Hope for the best, but expect the worst.” So, to cope, you have picked up the gauntlet of being a perfectionist, who obsessively plans to avoid harm only to find yourself mired in a maze of negative and cynical thinking.
b. HOW: Secondly, you can explore how you think, exposing those automatic, knee-jerk patterns of thinking that cascade you downwards to a day of doom and gloom. Gradually, you will learn how to extract the negative, unrealistic thought and replace it with a more positive and realistic one.
5. MEDICATION: As I have said before, medications are a two-edged sword. While medications like Valium or Xanax can get you over the hump when very upset, they are addictive, and you must not overly rely upon them. As many worriers are also depressed, the drug Paxil is a safer alternative in treating depression and stress with less risk of dependency.
6. PRAYER: A relationship with God can bathe you in unconditional love, and help you see the forest for the trees, the big picture helping you worry less about the little picture.
7. SELF-CARE: If you are pooped, you will be more prone to worry. So, get enough sleep, eat well, and exercise.
8. DISTRACTION: While the above sounds great, you will still worry. So, when those thoughts inevitably invade your mind, distract yourself from worrying by getting up, watching TV, eating a snack, taking a walk, listening to the radio, or anything that will momentarily help you stop yourself in your tracks rather then let you sink into a sticky web of “what ifs.”