Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Changing a Worry Wart to a Freckle ... by Cindy Beck

© Cindy Beck, 2009

(Photo by Gnome Icon Artists)

I’ll admit it; I’m a worry wart who frets over everything. There’s so much to be troubled about that it puts me in a tizzy. Will I catch the swine flu this fall? What would I do if my husband became involved in an accident while driving to a meeting? Will that mole on my neck grow to the size of a mango? If I spray for bugs, might I accidentally poison half the world’s water supply?

I find myself wondering what ever happened to the calm person I used to be.

As a kid I didn’t have much to agonize over—mostly just getting good grades in school and remembering to dive under my desk in a hug-the-knees position during a possible nuclear attack. Nowadays, I’m no longer anxious about grades, but the threat of global war is just one item on a long list that includes flu pandemics, the failing economy, disappearing retirement funds, health care, crime, my children/grandchildren’s safety, and last but not least, hair that’s turning gray. Should I color it? What if it turns out looking like a strawberry popsicle instead of the rich auburn I envision? Or what if the chemicals do something wacky and all my hair falls out instead?

Mental health professionals have a term for that feeling of constant anxiety: generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). The National Institute of Mental Health states that GAD in its extreme is characterized by, “Chronic anxiety, exaggerated worry and tension, even when there is little or nothing to provoke it.” The symptoms include an inability to shake off concerns, including worries that are accompanied by physical symptoms, especially, “ … fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, muscle aches, difficulty swallowing, trembling, twitching, irritability, sweating, and hot flashes.”

My friends and I have most of those symptoms, but we’ve been blaming our twitches and hot flashes on menopause. Face it, however; even though more women than men admit feeling anxious, we all worry about life events, even if we don’t take it to the point where we’re trembling and sweating.

What can we do about it? Should we resign ourselves to a fate of being—as my friend, Melanie Adams, jokes—“Thumb-sucking-fetal-positioned-eye-twitching-nervous-nellies”—or is it possible to remain tranquil during the turbulent times in which we live?

The first step to tranquility is to remember that not all worry is bad. Good worry warns us to avoid that swarthy stranger lurking down the alley, reminds us to lock our doors, or to go to the doctor and get that flu shot. It sets off the little mental voice that says, “Don’t buy that mink coat/mansion/4x4 truck with the Hemi engine, that only gets four miles to the gallon. It’ll just put you deeper in debt!” That type of worry is often inspired by the Spirit and provides guidance for daily living.

The second step requires recognizing that anxiety is a part of mortal existence, a side effect of the trials that we go through on earth. The trick is to control it, rather than letting it control us. To that end, here are a few tried and true techniques to help:

Pray. Yes, we’ve all heard that before, but life really does go smoother and we worry less when we do all we can and then leave our troubles in the hands of the Lord.
Read the scriptures. Although this is another standby, we’ll be blessed, and there’s nothing like reading about others’ problems to help put our own in perspective.
Keep a worry journal. When we write down worries and the outcome of them, we often discover that many of those concerns never came to pass. Studies show that eighty-five to ninety-five percent of the time, our worst fears are never confirmed. In addition, the act of writing down what’s bugging us often frees our minds for other, happier pursuits.
Share the apprehension. By talking out our anxieties, we’re able to confront them and many times find effective solutions. Just be sure to share them with someone who doesn’t over-react and isn’t an even bigger worrier.
Research the facts. Health issues, in particular, often generate inordinate amounts of concern. Knowledge of the facts gives the power needed to control our worries, and prevents enlarging them to the size of a hippopotamus.
Establish a time to worry. Pick a particular time of day, and a set amount of time, and worry away. After it’s over, if anxiety pops in again, push it to the back of the mind and say, “I won’t stew about that now. I’ll save it for worry time.” A word of caution: It’s easy to put worry time off until we’re lying in bed, and then we start in on that long list of concerns. In order to sleep well at night, make worry time earlier in the day.
Have fun. Once a day, take a moment or two to do something enjoyable. Take a deep breath, push all thoughts far away and watch the sunset, join the kids at play, pet the dog, or walk the beach with a friend or a spouse. The rejuvenation which happiness brings will help counteract the fears that the world is falling apart.
Take time to laugh. Remember that old adage … laugh, and the world laughs with you. Cry, and they’ll put you on Prozac. (Okay, I’ll admit that I did put a slight spin on that saying.)
Look backward. When a worry does come to pass, looking back on times when we’ve lived through a problem gives instant recognition that we’re strong and can do it again. We’re survivors.
Keep in mind Luke 12: 25-26: “And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit? If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest?” So, if worrying isn’t going to help us grow taller or keep our hair from falling out (or in my case, going gray) why spend so much time on it?

Give it a try. Just follow the steps above, and see if it doesn’t change that worry wart to a freckle.

Anxiety Disorders Association of America:
Ensign Magazine: Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Infinite Power of Hope,” Ensign, Nov 2008, 21–24.
National Institute of Mental Health:


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