Okay friends, for today’s Thoughtful Thursday video I wanted to share with you how to stop worrying. As I type that I realize this is a tall order! It sounds so much more easily said than done. But before I get into that, I thought I would share a little bit of a back story on my journey with worry and anxiety.
I have struggled with anxiety my entire life – or at least as long as I can remember. Even as a young child I remember being worried or nervous about all sorts of things. As a result of this I struggled with GI issues, and started regularly taking antacids in my teens to combat the symptoms. I was mostly able to manage my anxiety and GI issues throughout my young adulthood. I did this mostly through trying to control my environment. Keeping my spaces cleaned and organized definitely helped ease my anxiety. Also, keeping physical clutter to a minimum helped.
However, as I grew older, slowly over time more and more responsibilities and things piled on me. First it was getting married, and learning to manage not only my things, but my husband’s things as well. Then our daughter came along, and two more children after that. The responsibilities and the THINGS kept multiplying. I suppose it was a mercy that I only added to our chaos a little at a time, however it was like that analogy of a frog in a cool pot of water that began to get hot and boil over time – so that it wasn’t noticeable that more responsibilities and stuff were creeping in.
When our youngest son was a toddler I started struggling with severe anxiety symptoms. I struggled with periodic panic attacks, which began to disrupt my life. My doctor diagnosed me with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and prescribed Xanax, which I could take when the symptoms were unmanageable. I was able to cope like this for several years, until my anxiety reached a point where it was affecting my everyday life. The journey that ensued is a whole other story, but ultimately I ended up seeing a holistic doctor and discovering that I had multiple food sensitivities, exasperating my anxiety. I was thankful to have answers, and with diet and supplements I have been able to manage for over 12 years now.
But something I have learned since then is the power of my thoughts. I have learned the importance of positive self talk – replacing negative thoughts or negative things I tell myself with positive ones. I also learned about the power of the unconscious mind and started adding sleep meditations and positive affirmations to my daily routines.
In addition to this, recently I have been learning about stoicism and implementing these principles in my life. Something that has helped me greatly to deal with my anxiety is the idea of reframing. One of the stoics, Epictetus, said, “It’s not things that upset us, but our judgments about things.” When we worry, it is often about something bad happening, or about things not going the way we would like them to go. If we can learn to reframe our circumstances, not judging them as good or bad but accepting them as they are, then our worry dissipates. We must learn that all circumstances in life can be viewed as something that was meant to be for us – for our growth and maturity. When we let go of expectations of how things SHOULD go, we begin to feel peaceful.
Another encouraging quote comes from the stoic Seneca and he said, “He who suffers before it is necessary, suffers more than is necessary.” Understanding that we are not in control of others’ nor our circumstances releases us from the responsibility to be in charge. Obviously we are in control of ourselves and everything we do, every decision we make has a consequence – whether good or bad. Therefore we have full control of those outcomes – for example choosing to go to bed at a reasonable time means you will get good sleep, and therefore will feel well rested in the morning. However, we cannot control other people, the traffic, the weather, etc. We must let go of that feeling that we can control it in order to experience the peace we long for. In my sleep example, we are in control of when we go to bed and when we get up, but we cannot control if a siren or a snoring spouse wakes us in the middle of the night.
Learning to be self aware of our thoughts and reframing our experiences, and learning to release control of things that we think we have control over but do not will help tremendously with extinguishing worry. Like I mentioned at the beginning of this talk – that certainly is easier said than done. Yes, this sort of inner work takes practice – and it is WORK, so it is not easy, but it is worth it!