Worry, attachment, over-identification or anxiety; whatever you call it we all do it or have it. Worry is something we all need, it’s what allows us to get the critical work done, to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe and makes up a part of our conscience, keeping us our best self. But worry and anxiety are also energy sucking, joy-killing, life limiters when they are running the show. Can you tell the difference between healthy and unhealthy worry?
Here is what healthy worry sounds like; “Oh, I’d better make sure I submit that report on time!”. And this is what unhealthy worry sounds like; “Oh, I’d better make sure I submit that report on time!”. See the difference? This is what makes it hard to understand when our worry is helping us, and when it is not. Worry has a couple of “friends” that turn a fleeting thought into fear. The first is imagination. A thought can come and go like clouds in the sky, impermanent. However, if there is something about a thought that triggers our mind to start thinking, our imagination can take that thought and turn it into something else entirely; “Oh, I’d better make sure I submit that report on time! I don’t want to end up laid off from work like Sally, and everyone knows she was often late with her work. I can’t be out of a job right now, what would happen to my Mom? She depends on me to buy her groceries…” All of us have fleeting thoughts our imaginations take into whole new directions, creating fear and anxiety.
The second “friend” that tags along with worry is rigidity. Rigidity takes those hyper-activated thoughts our imagination just handed us and makes them a call to action. You stay really late at work, hoping to get everything done (so you won’t be a target for lay off). Perfectionism, vigilance, judgment, or a fixation on one particular outcome are all versions of rigidity, because your imagination just sold you a story you are desperate to keep from happening. We’ve all been there, imagining the worst possible ending, getting up in the middle of the night to check on an e-mail or spreadsheet we submitted, and are now second guessing (“Was my tone too harsh? Did I get those figures right?”).
If you have overwhelming amounts of anxiety in your life, please consult a qualified health care provider to help you. Relief can begin by making the call for that appointment (my true story based on real events). For the everyday items there are things we can do to keep worry from robbing us of well-being. The first step is to recognize when your imagination has taken off with a thought; sometimes you can catch this in the act (preoccupation, clenched jaw, headache, etc.) and sometimes you see it after the fact. When you see it, take it out for a cup of coffee. Take worry out of your mind and sit it down like it is a person, have a conversation with it. In doing this (making it something you relate to outside of yourself) you are much more able to see it objectively, to ask questions and to become more compassionate with it and yourself. Then, you are more able to accurately see the difference between healthy and unhealthy worry and do something constructive with it.
“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength.” ~ Corrie ten Boom