What, You Worry?

Sometimes, you just need to take a deep breath. After all, Robert Frost observed, “The real reason that worry kills more people than work does, is that more people worry than work." Perhaps we’d all worry less, and therefore be healthier, if we would just follow the wise advice of Marcus Aurelius who urged, “When you arise in the morning, think of what precious privilege it is to be alive, to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” Ahh, if it were only so easy.

Worrying is a set of thoughts that create uneasy feelings and being overly concerned about a situation or problem. Our bodies go into hyperdrive when we “terribilize” on what might happen. When people see, really see, what worry does to their health, they begin looking, almost immediately, for tools to help them turn away from “horribilizing” and worrying needlessly, to the present. "Worry itself is one of the most painful conditions,” said Albert Ellis, Ph.D.

Worry is a negative, self-fulfilling prophecy, negative conditioning, negative expectations, negative planning, negative programming, and negative visualization. It won’t help you find solutions, prevent you from overlooking anything, help you figure things out, keep you from being surprised or any other bad rationalization you can create to convince yourself that worry is good. “Worry happens in your mind, stress happens in your body, and anxiety happens in your mind and your body,” according to Emma Pattee, writing in the New York Times.

“My job is so stressful,” “My boss is driving me crazy,” “This commute is the most stressful thing on the planet,” “I’ll never pass this test, I’m so stressed out over it.” Sound familiar? These thoughts put the responsibility for feeling stressed on some outside event, work, the boss, the traffic, and the test. Yet, we know full well that there is no such thing as stress until and unless you think about events in a way that creates it, invites it to live in your head, and rent-free on top of it all.

All this stress inducing thinking and cortisol raises our blood sugar, creates cravings, reduces our ability to burn fat, increases the rate at which we store fat, causes hormonal imbalances, leaves our cells less sensitive to insulin, increases abdominal fat (the riskiest for our health) and raises our level of fat and triglycerides.

The American Psychological Association defines stress as "any uncomfortable emotional experience accompanied by predictable biochemical, physiological and behavioral changes.” What begins that “uncomfortable emotional experience”? An event? That may be a trigger, for sure.

Tell yourself that getting fired from a job may be a good thing, believe there’s something better coming along, and there isn’t stress. Hear a loud noise coming from the other room in the middle of the night when you’re home alone and tell yourself you’re about to be attacked and you’ll surely experience that “uncomfortable emotional experience.” But instead think it’s nothing more than the pile of books falling over that you stacked up before going to bed, and you’ll roll over and go back to sleep.

In the face of concerns about work, money, health, relationships, overload from the media, poor nutrition and sleep deprivation, the most common sources of stress triggers, the best thing we can do is PREVENT, not manage stress. Feel stressed? Immediately ask yourself, “What am I thinking that’s making me feel stressed?” The primary cause of stress are irrational beliefs and self-defeating thoughts. Irrational beliefs are the foundation of the main causes of most illnesses associated with stress.

The most effective way to prevent stress from living inside your head is to catch your irrational thoughts, challenge their truthfulness, and change them for more accurate, logical beliefs. After all, why manage what you can prevent?

Voltaire wisely noted, “Life is a shipwreck, but we must still sing in our lifeboats.” “But Michael, my life is crazy, my boss drives me nuts, the kids are always sick, I can never make it to the gym and our finances are stressing me out…I don’t even see a lifeboat!” When it comes to stress, there definitely is a lifeboat. You see, the Greek philosopher Epictetus was 100% right when he observed, “People aren’t disturbed by outside things and events, but by the views which they take of them.” There’s a lifeboat all right, and it’s right there behind your eyes, and between your ears.

We never go from an event to an emotion without thinking about the event first. Nothing “makes you” or “gets you” stressed. Nothing but your thoughts “make you” or “get you” stressed. Delete those words, “makes me” or “gets me.” You and your stress level are entirely up to you. And the price you pay for creating stress, disturbing yourself about events beyond your control is great, as Albert Ellis, Ph.D. noted, “The expense of making yourself panicked, enraged, and self-pitying is enormous. In time and money lost. In needless effort spent. In uncalled-for mental anguish. In sabotaging others’ happiness. In foolishly frittering away potential joy during the one life—yes, the one life—you’ll probably ever have.”

In today’s fast-paced world, stress has become a common part of our lives. It’s essential to find ways to de-stress and create inner peace. We’ve identified the source of stress, our thoughts about outside events. When we demand that events and people, including ourselves, be different, should be, must be different, our rigid, inflexible thoughts set in motion a stress reaction. These initial thoughts are followed often by, “it’s awful, horrible and terrible that it’s this way!” This revs us our stress level, only to be heightened even more by thinking that we “can’t bear it,” “can’t tolerate it,” “can’t stand it.” Then we depreciate ourselves, others, our life, and whoosh…we’ve just created stress.

Three key beliefs create an overwhelming amount of stress in our lives:

A. I must do well and win the approval of others for my performances, or else I am no good. (I must get the project done perfectly well.)

B. Other people must treat me considerately, fairly, and kindly, and in exactly the way I want them to treat me. If they don’t, they are no good and they deserve to be condemned and punished. (My boss and employees

C. I must get what I want, when I want it; and I must not get what I don’t want. It’s terrible if I don’t get what I want, and I can’t stand it. (I must succeed easily and without effort.)

These thoughts are not true, are rigid and extreme, are illogical and nonsensical, interfere with your healthy pursuit of goals, impede your productive work and interpersonal relationships, and lead to dysfunctional feelings, behaviors and thinking consequences. Once you've identified the source event of your stress, it will be easier to find your rigid, inflexible thoughts about that event, and then shift to more flexible, accepting thoughts. Ask yourself, “is what you’re thinking, true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, kind” (THINK)?

Ask yourself some or all of the following questions:

What is my evidence for and against my thinking?
Are my thoughts factual, or are they just my interpretations?
Are there any other ways that I could look at this situation?
What else could this mean?
If I were being positive, how would I perceive this situation?
Is this situation as bad as I am making out to be?
What is the worst thing that could happen? How likely is it?
What is the best thing that could happen?
What is most likely to happen?
Is there anything good about this situation?
Will this matter in five years’ time?
Is thinking this way helping me feel good or achieve my goals?
What can I do that will help me solve the problem?
Is there something I can learn from this situation that can help me do better next time?

Remind yourself: Life doesn’t always work out the way that I’d like it to. There is no reason why life must go the way I want it to. Life is not necessarily pleasant, but it is never awful, and it is nearly always bearable.

One effective way to manage worry is through meditation. Meditation has been used for thousands of years to help people find inner peace and reduce worry and stress. It involves focusing on your breath and letting go of all your thoughts and worries. Meditation can be done anywhere, at any time, and requires no special equipment or training. All you need is a quiet space where you can sit comfortably and focus on your breath.

Another way to de-stress is through exercise. Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural mood boosters that can help reduce stress and anxiety. It doesn’t matter what type of exercise you do, as long as you get your body moving. Whether it’s running, cycling, swimming, or even dancing, find an activity that you enjoy and make it a part of your daily routine.

Remember, stress is a part of life, but it doesn’t have to control your life. By incorporating these tips into your daily routine, you can reduce worry and find a more peaceful and fulfilling life.

Dr. Michael Mantell

Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D. has been providing psychological and coaching services for nearly 5 decades and continues to empower positive change among his global clients to enhance life in every way. He is a highly sought-after healthcare professional coach, an executive and team building consultant, and a longtime specialist in cognitive behavioral coaching.

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