Cathy Madavan gives us practical ideas for how to deal with an anxious mind
Are you a bit of worrier? Of course, it is perfectly normal to feel butterflies about a first date, a hospital appointment or a job interview. A level of worry is understandable in many circumstances. But some of us take worrying to another level entirely. Frankly, we worry if we don’t have anything to worry about! If we live in persistent or uncontrolled worry, where we catastrophise and constantly re-run ‘what-ifs’ and worse-case scenarios, we might need to consider slowing down the worry treadmill a little. I’ve battled with worry more than ever this last year, so here are some things I’ve been learning.
1. Worrying means facing our fears
We don’t generally worry about the positive things in our lives. We worry because we have different fears and anxieties, and we collude with that worry because we think ruminating endlessly might somehow lessen the power of what might happen. By worrying, we feel we are somehow doing something or dealing with the issue ahead of schedule. So, if we can notice what we are worrying about and why we are afraid, that will help us to face those fears and to take some positive, problem-solving steps forward.
2. Limit your worry-time
Some experts suggest setting time aside each day to write down or to clarify what is causing us to worry. They then suggest we try to move on and make the rest of the day a worry-free zone. This way, we give ourselves permission to visit our worry, but not to dwell in it permanently. I like this idea, although it’s perhaps easier to say than to do. Personally, I have found deep breathing, journalling, walking outside and talking with friends really helpful. Worrying takes a toll on our mental and physical health, so time out can only be a good thing.
3. All worry is not equal
Reality check time: we need to accept there will always be things to worry about and circumstances that won’t work out perfectly. We will always live with a level of uncertainty, and some worry will accompany that. But sometimes worry is more serious. Chronic worry, anxiety, OCD or depression are real issues for so many of us. We don’t want to trivialise these things as little worries or to live in denial or medicate our feelings. It takes courage, but it’s good to be honest and to acknowledge when our worries are too big for us to handle alone. Asking for help is always a strength and not a weakness.
4. Don’t let worry eclipse joy
Have you noticed how easy it is to downplay our positive experiences, but then to give endless attention to the negative ones? This can cause us to stop noticing the positive ones, and we may even begin to believe that because one thing didn’t work out, nothing will. Over some challenging recent months, I have trained myself to notice and be thankful for blessings, moments of joy and glimpses of grace. Sometimes our worry threatens to eclipse our peace, but you only need a little light to impact the darkness – it’s amazing how a smile, a phone call or a bit of self-care can reboot the system. Worrying doesn’t make you a bad person, but it pays to break the worry cycle with something that brings you joy when possible. Be kind to yourself!
5. Worrying doesn’t add anything
In the book of Matthew, Jesus tells his followers that worrying will not add a single hour to their lives, and to trust that God will look after them (Matthew 6:25–34). Jesus knows that we are prone to worry. I don’t know about you, but this is a real comfort to me. I can use all that worry-energy and turn it into prayer that adds something positive to my life in a way that worry doesn’t. I don’t have all the answers, but I do trust God. So, taling to God about my life is a powerful antidote to the spiral of worry. After all, God’s faithfulness is the one thing we never have to worry about!