Are you a worry wart? As the economic woes and financial stress of most Americans continues to grow, so does worry. However, research tells us that excessive worry doesn’t just affect mental health, it can also wreak havoc on a person’s physical well-being.
Most psychologists today agree that America is in a state of perpetual worrying – creating a "culture of anxiety."
Once acquired, the habit of worrying seems hard to stop.
Dr. Robert L. Leahy, the author of The Worry Cure: 7 Steps to Stop Worry From Stopping You and the director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy in New York City, said people worry because they think something bad will happen or could happen.
“People who worry activate a hypervigilant strategy of worry and think that 'if I worry I can prevent this bad thing from happening or catch it early,’” he said.
“Basically, they think that if they did not worry, things might get out of hand. The worrier's credo is that if you can simply imagine something bad happening, it's your responsibility to worry about it.”
Researchers at the University of Idaho Counseling and Testing Center say worry is the act of continually repeating the same thinking pattern over and over.
When we are worrying, we are in the midst of repetitive thinking, but it never resolves the situation – we only think it might.
Key features of worry are that it is repetitive and non-productive.
Worry can also have negative effects on both your body and your mind. It may cause physical problems such as an upset stomach, headaches, and muscle tension, researchers said.
Researchers say worrying affects our daily life so much that it interferes with the appetite, lifestyle habits, relationships, sleep, and job performance. Many people who worry excessively are so anxiety-ridden that they seek relief in harmful lifestyle habits such as overeating, cigarette smoking, or using alcohol and drugs.
Anxiety is a normal reaction to worry and eventual stress.
Ongoing anxiety may be the result of a disorder such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or social anxiety.
Anxiety disorders are commonplace in the U.S., which today affects nearly 40 million Americans.
Worry can quickly turn into a panic attack because it will eventually manifest itself into a general feeling of fear or terror.
Stress comes from the demands and pressures we experience each day. Long lines at the grocery store, rush hour traffic, a phone ringing nonstop, or a chronic illness are all examples of things that can cause stress on a daily basis. When worries and anxiety become excessive, chances are you’ll trigger the stress response.
"There is probably is a biological component to chronic worry, but there is also an early environment component," said Dr. Sandy Taub, a psychologist and psychoanalyst in private practice in Wilmington, Del., in an interview.
"The feeling of safety that 'my mother will keep me safe' should be internalized and grow along with you so that, for the most part, you feel secure," she said.
Taub said if someone who worries had a mother who was not as available and not consistent, they can develop the mindset that the world is not such a safe place.
Psychologists say worry is almost never useful. It is a handicap and will eventually turn into stress and will trigger imagined threats. The more we worry, the more it prevents clear thinking.
“A person engulfed in a panic attack usually experiences a racing or pounding heart, sometimes even pain or heaviness in the chest,” said a report in Psychology Today.
“Breathing becomes difficult. The body trembles and hands turn clammy. The person may notice tingling in their hands and feet, sometimes in their arms and legs. They may start to feel light-headed.”
According to recent studies, about five percent of American adults experience panic attacks. Often, the attacks come out of the blue, for no apparent reason. Or they can come on when a person is coping with extreme stress.
A social worrier has the feeling that they are being watched and judged by others, even if rationally you know that this is not the case.
Another common form of worry is when someone is filled with negative questions and dwell on endless "what if's." They feel trapped in cycles of anxiety and worry.
So, what is the answer?
Worrying can be undone. There are psychological gimmicks for undoing the worry habit.
Researchers said if someone cannot stop worrying that means they think it serves them somehow. Someone can simply cultivate the habit of postponing worrying.
The mind becomes conditioned differently and we try not dwell on worries in the present.
The trick is that whenever you feel plagued by a worrying thought, note it down on a "worry sheet” or a piece of paper next to a desk or bed. Once the worry is written down, forget it and say “I will worry about that later.”
This little trick is effective because it bypasses the thought that we have to worry now to fix something. The mind is "fooled" into thinking that it has not given up worrying. Meanwhile, we lose the habit of worrying in the present moment.
Plan to read the list of worries at a time when there is no worry.
“That might sound bizarre, but then so is the notion that you must experience endless unhappiness and worry before you're allowed to be happy,” researchers said.
What does the Bible say about worry?
Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don't work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. (NLT)
Worry weighs a person down; an encouraging word cheers a person up. (NLT)
And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? (NLT)
That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life-whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn't life more than food, and your body more than clothing? (NLT)
1 Peter 5:7
Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. (NLT)