Worry Well but Worry Once
The pandemic continues. The curve is flattening.
Each day we are seeing the threat to our physical safety from the COVID-19 virus lessening as individuals, communities and organisations practise basic hygiene, social distancing and home isolation.
However, we now face the next wave of the pandemic - economic uncertainty. With changing job roles, reduced pay and redundancies, many individuals are worried about how they will pay the mortgage and school fees.
If you are an excessive worrier (some may call it anxiety) you will be familiar with the cognitive and emotional rollercoaster the one can ride when we start to over think. ‘The Worry’ is simply a thought that repeatedly and constantly emerges in our thoughts causing a cascade of an emotional reactions such as anger, sadness or even that feeling of helplessness. 'The Worry' is that feeling you get when you think about an upcoming exam or meeting and you aren’t prepared. How do you respond? Do you sit down and madly start working? Do you feel sad? Or do you do feel it’s too much so instead you turn on Netflix?
How does our body respond to 'The Worry'
What’s actually happening here is that the emotional response we have to ‘The Worry’ comes from us being amazing biological machines built for survival. Thinking about ‘The Worry’ is registered neurologically as ‘perceived threat’. Since our brain can’t decipher between a physical (e.g. ball coming towards us) threat and a perceived one (e.g. upcoming presentation) it responds to both as a real. When our survival is threatened, we are hard wired to either fight, flight or freeze - this is our stress response. This response is designed to get us out of immediate danger and protect us.
Physiologically speaking, when the stress response has been activated adrenaline and norepinephrine is pumped into the body and the neurochemical cortisol flood the brain. Excessive ruminating thoughts of ‘The Worry’ keeps the stress response in activated mode with hormonal and neurochemicals continually pumping. Imagine never switching off your bedroom lights even while you’re sleeping or leaving your car running endlessly. Prolonged use of the stress response will severely impact our quality of sleep, our eating and drinking patterns and our relationships.
When resort to the known
Ineffective strategies can sometimes be employed in an attempt to make ourselves feel better or maybe just to ride out the storm. Behaviours such as drinking or eating excessively, using drugs, avoiding the situation and withdrawing from personal relationships are not going to help resolve ‘The Worry’ and can exacerbate the emotional response almost like jumping on another cart and riding the same rollercoaster.
So.....Worry well - but worry once.
The process of ‘worrying well’ is to find time and space to sit with your worry. This will activate your stress response and put you right back on that emotional rollercoaster. If you worry well the first time your future response to ‘the worry’ will be founded on the outcome of this process.
Some of my clients practise this process daily - becoming so efficient at that they are able to mentally scroll through these steps in the shower or on their morning run. If this practise is new to you, start by writing it down. Remember what we practise becomes automatic so the more you do this the quicker and more effective the process will be. And arrange to either go for a walk, bounce on the tramp or do some gardening aft wards to burn off that excess adrenaline that’s pumping through.
5 Step Process to 'Worry Well'
Step One: start by naming ‘The Worry ' e.g job uncertainty.
Step Two: list all the words that come to mind when are thinking of ‘the worry’ and place them either in your circle of control our outside your circle of control. Your thoughts, your emotions, your contribution – these are some of the things you have control over. If you find you are thinking negatively – challenge the thoughts. Notice the story that is in the background of these thoughts. Brene Brown talks about the story we tell ourselves. This story has a huge impact into how we respond to situations. If the story you are telling yourself isn’t helping –flip the script. Identify a more positive script (e.g I am worthy of being in this team) and constantly refer back to it so that it becomes part of the story.
Step Three: Is ‘The Worry’ solvable or unsolvable. Quite often ‘the worry’ is due to external circumstances. Acknowledging that ‘the worry’ is unsolvable creates uncertainty and this can feel uncomfortable. Try to find meaning when you are faced with situations that are beyond your control. Viktor Frankl’s book (see below) recounts how he survived terrible and atrocities physical and mental conditions by finding a meaning in each day. ‘The Worry’ may not be solvable by you but you can learn more about yourself (ie coping strategies, emotional responses) in the process. This is where you flip-the-script and are starting to re-write the story of 'The Worry'
Step Four: Now to help thicken this story and keep the new story as one that builds resilience - list all available resources to help you move through the time of ‘The Worry’. The list might include partners, family, friends, HR at work, teachers, community organisations.
Step Five: Identify switches. When problem story of ‘The Worry’ beckons for to get back on the emotional rollercoaster find a switch to turn off the stress response. Switches are tools that immediately send messages to the brain to calm and turn off the alarm. They might include a smell (mine is ylang ylang), a place, a song, a cup of tea, deep breaths, a quote, a pleasing picture, a run, a bounce on the tramp, yoga or dancing. Stimulating pleasure through your sensory system (sight, sound, touch, feel, taste) sends messages to your brain that all is ok and to resume rest mode. With practise this will become a learned behaviour and your brain will switch much quicker. No need to board that rollercoaster cart.
This is the process of ‘Worry Well’. Diving straight into ‘the worry’ allowed you agency over 'The Worry' instead of being completely overwhelmed by the things that are outside of your control. By the re-writing of 'The Worry' you are giving it back to yourself instead of feeling powerless within it.
Next time ‘The Worry’ appears identify it by name and remember the new story you have written about it... and worry once.
If you'd like some help in Worrying Well Renee on +61 418 724 108
Links and resources:
- Rewire your anxious Brain - Book
- Reach out - a worry time https://au.reachout.com/tools-and-apps/reachout-worrytime
- Simon Senek - PositivityVs Optimism
- Brene Brown - The story we tell ourselves
- Chimamanda - Danger of a single story
- Viktor Frankal - mans search for meaning book
- Jackie Winship - Worry well and worry once
- Yoga - yoga for vulnerability
- Gillian Straker & Jackie Winship - Book - The Talking Cure
Author: Renee Boyle
Renee is a registered member of the AustralianCounselling Association (ACA), the Australian College of Supervisors, theQueensland College of Teachers (QCT) and the Victorian Institute of Teaching(VIT). Renee holds a Masters degrees in Counselling and Psychotherapy, and Bachelor degrees in both Education and Psychology.
Renee has more than 16 years’ experience working with individuals, couples, families and organisations through a range of both state, private and independent clinical settings such as schools, mental health and early intervention services and business organisations. She has worked in bothQueensland and Victoria as both a teacher and a counsellor.
Facilitating group workshops, information seminars and presentations is Renee’s passion. She is passionate about mental health and wellbeing and sharing this knowledge to support individuals, groups and organisations.