How often have you said that? Been saying it more recently, as we navigate this pandemic?
Worry is part of life. In fact, I recent read about a study that found that people worry on the average of about an hour a day. When something is important to us, we worry. We worry about ourselves. We worry about our loved ones. We worry about the world.
And if you’re living with a chronic condition like HIV, then chances are you may also worry from time to time about health-related concerns. You may worry that you might forget to take your medication. You may worry about what your doctor is going to say at your next appointment. You may worry about how you’re going to feel if you get a cold. And, if you are like many of my clients, you may also be worrying about COVID-19.
So, you may be thinking: Isn’t worry the same thing as being anxious? Actually not. Here are some of the characteristics of worry:
-Worry doesn’t have to interfere with your life or stop you from doing what you need to do.
-Worry is unpleasant but it doesn’t overwhelm you.
-Worry is usually related to something specific, like an upcoming event or a potential occurrence.
-Worry usually comes and goes. It’s temporary.
Anxiety, on the other hand, lasts a lot longer, hours or days. Often, people who are feeling anxious don’t connect their anxious feelings with a specific event. The anxiety is just there. And anxiety is often accompanied by symptoms, such as a headache, trouble sleeping, and inability to relax, among others.
Worrying can lead to high anxiety over time.
So, why worry? Because you’re human. But that doesn’t mean you have to live the life of a worry wart. Here’s what you can do to tame those worrying thoughts:
Put names on your worries. Okay, so you’re worried. What are you worried about? Something you might do or not do, or that might or might not happen? Identify your worries rather than letting them float around like dark clouds. It might help to make a list of all the things that are worrying you.
Identify the possible outcomes. Take a moment and think about how each of the things you are worried about might turn out. An easy way to do it is to play some “what if” with your worries by finishing this sentence for each one: “If __________ (your worry goes here), then _____________ might happen.” Keep in mind that each of your worries may have more than one potential outcome, some worse than others. Consider all the possibilities. Who knows, once you take a close look at the outcomes, you may decide you have less reason to worry.
Consider the solutions. Now that you’ve identified the potential outcomes of whatever it is that’s worrying you, then it’s time to take a look at solutions. Time to consider that sentence completion technique again: “If _______________ happens, then I can _____________.” Of course, some of the solutions may be easier than others. But at least by thinking through the alternatives, you have a better idea of what you might be up against and where you may need to put your energies. But what if you’re not sure how you would begin to figure out a solution?
Accept that life is uncertain. A main cause of worrying is the dislike of uncertainty that pretty much all of us humans have in common. We want to know how life is going to turn out. And want to be in control of how that happens. But we’re not in control. Life feels a lot more manageable when you accept that you can’t control the future. With this acceptance, what you can control becomes a whole lot clearer.
Talk to yourself. A little pep talk, a few words of encouragement, can make a lot of difference when you’re caught up in worrying. Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can. Review what you’ve done in the past when you’ve had a similar worry. Recite any words of wisdom you’ve heard or read to help to calm you down, and to inspire you to keep going.
Throw in some tough love. By the way, worrying doesn’t stop bad things from happening. Just saying.
Say it out loud. Expose your worries to the light of day. Sit down with a friend and talk about what’s on our mind. An objective viewpoint can give you some needed perspective. So reach out for support!
Make use of your worry. One way to avoid worried thoughts is to stay on top of your self-care regimen. If you’re doing what you need to do, then there’s one less thing to worry about. Right?
It’s only human to worry. But you don’t have to give in to those worried thoughts. Stare them down, break them down. Accept what you can and can’t control. Focus on what’s possible!
Gary McClain, MS, PhD, LMHC, CEAP, is a psychotherapist, patient advocate, and author in New York City, who specializes in working with individuals diagnosed with chronic and catastrophic medical conditions, their caregivers, and professionals. He often works with couples who are living with a chronic condition. He maintains a website, www.JustGotDiagnosed.com.