Anxiety Hijack: When Worry Takes Over Your Life Part II
Updated: Aug 10, 2022
In Part I of Anxiety Hijack we explored Dr. Barry Barmann’s idea of why we tend to worry and how anxiety acts as an emergency signal for change. For review, check out this post.
For something we so masterfully google how to get rid of, why do we cozy on up to our worries so often? Full disclosure: even the trained brain of a mental health professional crammed full of facts and strategies still struggles with this. If we have a hard time letting go of something, much of the time it means this thing is serving us in some way, maybe even helping us function. In fact, it can be almost scary to think about giving it up. Dr. Barrmann (he's back again) presents a few deeply-rooted beliefs we may be clinging to about our anxiety. So let's explore some beliefs about anxiety and challenge them with some thought-provoking questions...
Belief #1: My Worry Will Prevent Bad Things From Happening
I always prided myself in being a rather responsible person, a classic planner. If you're like me, going over the details of vacation plans or the upcoming weekend seems to offer a peace of mind. Car trip preparation means packing extra clothes for temperature changes and snacks for when someone inevitably gets hungry. All of this to prevent some sort of negative outcome. But when does the position of responsible planner seep into excessive worrier? Pondering the future is usually a fruitless journey, yet here I sit taking a mental walk down each avenue I think of as a possible outcome. Thinking about all the ways this could end badly will somehow make it less likely to happen. It's funny (and not really in a ha-ha way) how we tend to spend so much time contemplating the things that never end up happening. We worry about going through a job change, losing someone or something that we love, a potential financial fiasco, thinking, maybe I can avoid the pitfalls I might otherwise miss if I wasn’t thinking ahead. As Wiz Khalifa aptly said, "[Worry] is like walking around with an umbrella waiting for it to rain." Here is where you can insert some questions to challenge the belief that worrying could prevent a negative outcome.
Belief #2: I Can Save Myself From Negative Future Feelings
An anxious mind says preparing us for the worst case scenario will spare us future pain. Most of us have been down the Web MD road when a curious symptom suddenly turns into a deadly disease. I’ve been diagnosed with several terminal illnesses in the past via online investigation. The thought could be along these lines: If I dwell on this worst possible outcome now, I’ll be prepared to face it if it turns out to be true. During pregnancy, I found myself caught in the worry cycle both with my health and the baby’s, googling every symptom or possible outcome of how this complex process could go wrong. I would actually seek out horror stories, as if the knowing did something for me. Maybe in some way if I calculated the cost of leaning into every possible feeling of disappointment, fear, anxiety, it would lessen the blow if the worst did happen. Pretty twisted logic, right? We don’t like being blindsided and may believe that worrying enough will offer protection or even prevention.
Belief #3: Worrying = Action
It feels silly to say (or write), but sometimes I treat worry almost like a checklist item. My anxiety over plans or a future event is so intense it needs its own category as an extracurricular activity. I have spent hours ”researching” some weird body symptom or- my latest- where the best school systems are because I only have four years to plan for that, ya know! Some days the to-do list, whether real or perceived, is so overwhelming absolutely nothing is accomplished. We're not satisfied until we feel like this issue has been worried about enough...but when will that magical timer go off?
Another sticky trap we tend to fall into is an overcompensation in the concern department. It seems we might be the only ones capable or qualified and well, someone has to worry about this! We‘ve seen this unfold during a global pandemic. For some, the more they watched the lack of concern in others, the greater their own worry. Remember those horrible group projects in school? I was often the one who would start to overcompensate, stressing over the details enough for myself and my lackadaisical group members. As a parent, we worry incessantly enough for ourselves and our oblivious little ones. Sometimes, this is necessary as a caregiver, but sometimes it means not freaking out over the handful of sand your kid just swallowed before you could stop him.
Live Well, Worry Less
Hear me when I say I’m not simply telling you to stop worrying. Refer to Anxiety Hijack Part I if you need a reminder of how anxiety is a biological response and contributes to survival. Learning how to better manage anxiety and taper your worries is meant to enhance and add value to your life. It does not take away from who you are- your sense of responsibility, concern for others or the world around you. It certainly doesn’t mean throwing caution to the wind and living carelessly. What it does mean is freedom, breaking out from underneath the weight of these beliefs that may be trapping you in a place of darkness.
It goes without saying that it matters what you put in your body and where you put your body. What's your diet like? Who do you hang around? What shows are you bingeing in the evening? When do you notice your worry/anxiety is heightened? It may always be a hard-fought battle, but some things do help. Newer research studies are confirming the benefits of increasing supplements like Magnesium and B-vitamins. You can read more info about that here. Particular foods, like salmon and oats, can actually help regulate serotonin and dopamine in the brain, which contribute to brain function and reduce anxiety as well. I'm not an essential oil connoisseur by any means, but there is research on how certain natural oils can also promote reduced stress.
* Home remedies won't harm you to try but should never take the place of prescribed medication unless regulated by a doctor. If anxiety is truly impairing your ability to function or severely affecting your work or social life, it's time to make an appointment.
Even if you're feeling like you could be the poster child for Worries-R-Us today, you are not alone in the battle nor do you need to be held captive by your worries. While techniques and supplements are always recommended, a major step in taking back your life when the worries take over is to learn to lay them down. Relinquish fears to the more-than-capable hands of the One who offers refuge to the weary and abolishes even the most suffocating anxieties. No concern of yours today is too small a care for Him. I I love these lyrics by Zach Williams. You can listen to the full song here. It's a good one!
Fear, he is a liar He will take your breath Stop you in your steps Fear, he is a liar He will rob your rest Steal your happiness Cast your fear in the fire 'Cause fear, he is a liar