Worried Sick

When I was 16, I came home very late to be confronted with an angry mother. She was “sick with worry.” My teenaged self didn’t quite understand, but I do now.

We can, literally, make ourselves sick with worry.

“Everybody has anxiety,” says Dr. Daniel Pine, an NIH neuroscientist and psychiatrist. “The tricky part is how to tell the difference between normal and abnormal anxiety. Anxiety activates the body’s stress response. Nearly all the cells, tissues and organs go on high-alert. This stress response can wear the body down over time. People with long-term anxiety have a higher risk of both physical and mental health problems. People visit their doctors because of headaches, racing hearts or other physical complaints not realizing that these symptoms may be connected to their anxiety.”

But what if everything comes out just fine?

A 2012 laboratory experiment shows that excessive worry even lowers our immune system’s ability to fight off the common cold. In the controlled experiment, people who reported more than average worries and stress were twice as likely to come down with a cold when exposed to the same rhinovirus.

As a Science of Mind minister, I have my own idea of why worry is so dangerous. Ernest Holmes, the founder of Science of Mind, said, “Thoughts become things.” This has been proven to me so many times that I must issue the alert: “Worrisome thoughts become worrisome things!” That’s right: when our minds are full of fear about what might happen we may create a future that brings those very fears to life.

So how do we resist worry? How can we get out of a cycle of anxious thinking? Here are some practical ideas from Helpguide:

Create a worry period. Throughout the day, make brief notes about your worries, but refuse to actually worry until your assigned daily 15-minute “worry period.” During the worry period, you may discover that your worries are less important. You’ll also be limiting the amount of overall stress that you accumulate through worry.

Determine if the worry is “solvable.” If it is, work to the resolution instead of worrying. If not, release the worry to your higher power. There’s nothing you can do about it.

Challenge Anxious Thoughts. Many people worry about things that might happen without thinking through the likelihood. Is air travel really dangerous? Are your children really likely to be kidnapped? Do cars really “blow up” in minor traffic accidents? Sometimes it’s useful to challenge the validity and likelihood of our worries. If something rarely (or never) happens, can’t you release the worry?

Practice Mindfulness. Worry is about something that might happen in the future. Thankfully, there’s little to worry about in the present moment. Try acknowledging your feelings, but concentrate on what’s happening right now. You may find that your worries fade into the background if you give your attention to what you’re doing at the moment.

Chronic worry is, well, worrisome! It provides no particular benefits to the worrier and it creates an environment of physical, emotional and spiritual disease.

When we notice that our thoughts have turned to worry, let’s use our best metaphysical and mental tools to turn that around. After all, what if everything turns out just right?