The Truth About WorryMar 27, 2022
A friend asked you for a place to sit. So you begin describing a chair. It’s green, and it has wooden legs and a high back. It’s a sturdy chair.
How’s it going? Can your friend sit in the chair yet?
Maybe you need to provide more detail. For example, you could provide details down to the atomic level.
Then could your friend sit in the chair?
Action and thinking aren’t the same. You can describe, describe, evaluate, evaluate. But, unfortunately, neither of these will get you a physical chair for your friend to sit on.
Worry is like your mind giving you descriptions of chairs and questioning why you haven’t taken a seat. There is nothing else to sit on. Worry can’t deliver results, and it can only blab about details. Sometimes these details matter, and often these details are excessive and distracting.
When has this happened to you? Think of a time when your mind got stuck in a loop of offering details upon details without allowing space for you to take action. You believed you were doing something about the topic on your mind. You may have even been confused about why nothing had changed in your life. This blah, blah, blah worry loop your mind does lead you to believe you are doing something important. For example, describing a chair in detail to the atomic level seems like action until your legs are tired and you need to sit. At that time, you may realize all of the time and energy spent in the detail didn’t deliver the result you needed. Now you’re mentally exhausted from all that worry and the tired legs.
This distinction between worry and action is crucial because it can mean the difference between achieving your goals and staying stuck. Anxiety gets a bad wrap as it can be pretty disruptive in our lives when it becomes pervasive and pathological. However, anxiety leads to action when we experience anxiety outside of a mental health illness. Anxiety is that feeling you get in your body when you’re about to do something challenging. Anxiety is that ache in your heart when you fear harm coming to someone you love. Anxiety is a neon sign pointing towards things that are important to you. It has a physical component that can lead to action because it has activated your nervous system.
On the other hand, worry is describing a chair and believing that’s what you need to do to take a load off and sit down. Anxiety can lead to worry when you experience the physical sensation, and the action requires some thought. It teaches you to think about the next steps, but it becomes a problem you get stuck in your thoughts. When your thoughts are on repeat is when it’s become worried. Worry has no purpose. Anxiety’s goal is to keep us safe. Knowing how to respond to anxious feelings with action instead of worry is a powerful tool.
The most powerful tool to stop worrying is changing your relationship with vulnerability. Fear of vulnerability is like describing the molecular make-up of a chair and then feeling frustrated when you can’t sit down. It will keep you stuck in a place of physical fatigue rather than help you gain the rest you need. Vulnerability, by definition, is ‘being exposed to the possibility of being harmed.’ Vulnerability doesn’t equal harm. It’s the POSSIBILITY of harm. Harm is a thing that MAY happen. Too often, the focus has been on describing vulnerability to the tiniest detail, just like that chair, while becoming fatigued.
Worry focuses on vulnerability. The action focuses on possible internal and external safety nets. Worry leads you to believe that hurt is inevitable. This is a story your brain tells you to keep you safe. The brain has one main job - KEEP YOU SAFE! It will do anything to keep you safe, including making up creative narratives. However, the brain is focused on keeping you safe in the immediate, not necessarily secure, throughout a lifetime. So worry might make you feel safe for a hot second. Vulnerability has some risks, but it is a strength. Vulnerability allows us to have deep connections with others. So if you find yourself stuck in worry about vulnerability with little action towards safety, you can recognize this as unhelpful. Your mind can no longer trick you into thinking worry is the same as action.
So when you spent an hour describing a chair with no results, name what has been happening in your brain - “oh hey, my brain is doing that thing again.” I like, “My brain has been crowing away like a rooster at dawn.” Then think of one action you can do that moves you out of a place of ambiguity and into action. Perhaps all it needs is to step towards another room with extra chairs. The step does not be giant. The step doesn’t need to be the solution, it can be small and incremental, and you’ll get the same impact.
Have your thoughts been productive? Have you made any movement? If not, please put 15min on your calendar, write down all the possible actions you could take, and pick one. Then schedule that action for the necessary block of time.
In summary, worry is not productive. It steals energy to spin tales of worst-case scenarios in excessive detail. If you’re activated by stress or anxiety, your body lets you know that taking action will soothe you through an activated nervous system. So don’t get stuck in inactivity but instead, let your mind do that thing if it must, but you can take action.
What would you say if I told you that spending 5 minutes per day supporting your mental wellness could improve your gut health? And 5 minutes per day helping your gut health could improve your mental health?
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