I admit it. I’m a worrywart. And I’ve been one all my life. In fact, worrying is my life. From the time I put my foot out of the bed, to the moment I lay my head on the pillow, I’m a bundle of nerves.
Of course, recent world events haven’t helped matters. And COVID-19 has me off the charts with anxiety. Admittedly, I was always near the edge, on high alert for earthquakes, tornadoes, global warming, meteorites, bridge collapses, bird flu, deer ticks, ingrown toenails, nuclear annihilation and misanthropic aliens. Then, there were my Category B concerns — things like eclipses, lightning, airplane food and turbulence, falling elevators, re-engineering, my cats leaving, and the return of polyester.
The good news, though, is I’m in recovery. I’ve done a lot of research on anxieties. I’ve even written a book on the subject (The Worrywart’s Prayer Book). Okay, so in the process, I’ve bitten my nails to the quick. Still, I’ve also gained a modicum of insight.
I’m sharing some of that with you in the hopes it will help during this stressful time:
Let there be no crisis before its time. An anonymous philosopher once coined an adage: “Today is the tomorrow you worried about, and all is well.” Think about that when you’re tempted to time travel into the future to put out fires that haven’t even started yet. Don’t worry about something that will take place in a week, a day or even an hour. The variables will be different then, than they are today. If you have to make a decision on Friday, wait until Friday, and see what the day brings. Try to stay optimistic.
Stay grounded in the present. Look what happens when you don’t: You’re in bed watching a movie when a worrisome thought crosses your mind. Did I check whether the plans were overnighted to my client? That thought leads to another: If it didn’t get sent, maybe I can shoot him an email first thing in the morning? But…and that thought leads to another and another, and meantime, half the movie has gone by and you’ve missed it. Quash worrying like that with one question: “Can I do anything about this matter right now, right this minute?” If the answer is “No,” then stay in the present moment, jot down the thought and let it go.
Don’t let possessions possess you. Don’t let objects rule you. Don’t give them the power to spoil your day. No one’s advocating you not react if you lose or damage something. But, compounding a problem by worrying after the fact can’t bring it back. “The uprooting of worry,” Buddha reminds us, “is losing your attachments to things.” No attachment; no worry. By the same token, the less you have, the less anxiety you bring into your life. Detach and simplify and you minimize worry.
Set worry limits. Can’t get worry under control right away? Then establish limits. These days, with alerts hitting you right and left, it’s hard to say I’m only going to worry for 20 minutes, or maybe an hour. But you can cut down on the overload beaming at you by only watching one nightly news program, or not signing up for every single solitary virus update. Go on a worry diet.
Keep a Worry Journal. Write down your worries in a notebook on a daily basis. Try to keep tabs of how much time you spend being anxious, too. Try to minimize it from week to week.
Be your own disaster master. Worrying is a choice, and you can choose not to do it. Once you catch yourself, you can say “Okay, I’m going around in circles. I can’t do anything about this. So I’m getting off this worry bus.” Then get completely absorbed with something that requires your total mental attention: do a Sudoku puzzle, erase some photos from your smart phone, clear out unwanted emails, build a birdhouse, bake bread from scratch, count the change in your piggy bank, read the first 50 pages of a really good book.
Stop playing God. You can’t plan for every eventuality. So worrisome thinking such as, if this happens, I’ll do this; if that happens, I’ll do that. If this and that happens, I’ll do this and that, will only drive you up the wall. Truth is, you don’t know what will happen five minutes from now, let alone tomorrow. So stop trying to do God’s job. Things will evolve according to what’s in His daytimer, not yours. Acknowledging God is in charge with a prayer wouldn’t hurt either. Prayer has a calming effect that can center you and drive worry away.
Don’t try to control others with your worries. Worrying about loved ones wastes a lot of time and opens up the door to permanent estrangement. The antidote? Let people be who they are. Stop forcing them to do what will make YOU feel better, instead of what they want. No manipulating them under the guise of love. Yes, even in this time of COVID-19.
Reign in your imagination. Many worriers are gifted with super-duper imaginations. Don’t use yours against yourself. Instead of doting on the worst case scenario, conjuring up images of doom and gloom and visualizing every possible bad thing that could happen, use your mind’s eye to paint a positive picture. Visualize what’s good about the situation. Think about the best possible scenario or outcome.
Practice and pretend. Acting “as if” you’re not anxious when, in fact, you are interrupts the worry cycle so you can go about your business as usual, uncomfortable, but functioning nonetheless. Then after you survive a series of nail-biting experiences that turn out to have been less worrisome than you thought, your mind will say, “See I told you so.” Practice and pretend not to worry, and in time, anxieties won’t paralyze you.
Remember, though, these are strange times and even the calmest soul can have the heebie-jeebies. So don’t be too hard on yourself if you falter. Remember, worrywarts like you and I are works-in-progress. We need time to adjust. But will I worry about it? Will I make myself anxious? I think not.
— Allia Zobel Nolan
Allia Zobel Nolan is the author of the newly published second edition of The Worrywart’s Prayer Book. She is an internationally published author of over 150 traditionally published children’s and adult trade titles. Her books reflect her two main passions, God and cats, and include such varied titles as Cat Confessions: A Kitty Come Clean Tell All Book, Whatever Is Lovely: a 90-Day Devotional and Journal; and What I Like About You: A Book About Acceptance. She lives and worries, with her husband, Desmond, and their two feline children, Nolan Nolan and Colleen Fiona Shannon Nolan. In 2018, she collaborated with the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop on the humor anthology, Laugh Out Loud: 40 Women Humorists Celebrate Then and Now…Before We Forget.