Everyone worries at one time or another. It is an anxious state of mind brought on by a genuine problem that needs to be addressed. Worry pumps adrenaline into the system and challenges one to cope with the problem. When the problem is successively tackled, worry disappears.
But there are chronic or habitual worriers to whom worry has become second nature. Without something to worry about they feel lost. Such worry serves no useful purpose. On the other hand, it makes a person dull and unproductive.
“They worry with nothing to worry about. Just worry, worry, worry,” says C. T. Weigle.
Consequences of chronic worry:
• Physically, worry makes a person jumpy and nervous. The person has a melancholy demeanour because of worry lines that makes the face look older. Nail biting, fidgeting, lack of attentiveness are some of characteristics.
• Mentally, the person is unable to think logically. Worry clogs the mind so that even routine jobs are difficult to perform. The mind is deeply troubled about something that might happen but may never happen. As Seneca said, “The mind that is anxious about the future is miserable.”
King David in one of his bouts of worry cried, “My mind is filled with apprehensions and gloom.”
• Worry kills slowly but steadily. Low self-esteem is characteristic of a worrier. One is unable to use one’s intelligence or creativity. Restlessness, mental disturbances, headache, insomnia, irritability, lack of confidence are commonly seen. As a result, one is prone to high blood pressure, stomach ulcers and other medical complications.
• Worry magnifies every problem. Even a small one is blown out of proportion. Sometimes the problem is imaginary and may never happen. At other times, it has already happened and no amount of worry can undo it.
• Worry is a lack of trust in one’s self and in God who is able to work out every detail of human lives.
• Worry is unproductive. It brings no benefits.
Causes of Worry:
1. Fear of inability to cope with life situations like ageing, disability, accidents, illness, bereavement. There is a total lack of faith in one’s self. A worrier convinces himself that he doesn’t have the ability to handle his problems.
2. Fear of rejection: He is afraid of other people’s poor estimate of him. So to avoid hurt, he shuts people out.
3. Fear of challenges like decision making, changing carriers, losing weight, making or breaking relationships, or economic set-backs.
4. Fear of failing to live up to the standards of this world. Keeping up with the Joneses or living according to the expectations of others can create tension and worry. Life becomes a permanent competition.
Scientists say that people who suffer from habitual worry have too little of the neurotransmitter GABA. Others say that it is due to an overactive amygdala (a small almond shape structure in the brain.)
Worry suppresses the immune system and increases the risk of cholesterol plaques in the arteries. Hence, the rise in blood pressure or even coronary heart disease.
How to cope with worry:
The English word ‘worry’ is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘to strangle’ or ‘to choke.’ Worry chokes out the joy of living by substituting it with fear to face the ordinary problems of human existence.
• Analyze the cause of your worry. Examine the problem from every angle. Confront your fears one by one. Then identify your strengths and use them to solve each problem. Human beings are unique because of God-given intelligence.
• Whatever resources you require are in your mind. As the psychologist William James said, “Keep your mind free of disbelief and eliminate negative thoughts.” Worry blocks the free flow of thoughts. “Every day, give yourself a mental shampoo,” says Dr. Sarah Jordan.
• “Imaging” is one way of getting rid of worry. If a bad habit is to be broken it must be substituted by something positive and constructive.
A young student was to deliver a speech before a large gathering of professors and academics. Though he knew his subject thoroughly, he began to worry that he would stutter or lose his trend of thought or simply go blank. He visualized the professors smirking and the students mocking, and saw himself make an inglorious exit from the hall. The boy begged his teacher to exempt him from giving the speech.
But the teacher gave him a lesson in the art of imaging. “You must mentally see yourself as an achiever. Picture yourself standing on the podium and holding sway over such an illustrious audience. They are spellbound by your brilliant presentation. Feel the arc lights turned on you as you take you bow to thunderous applause.
This positive imaging took a few days to register. The student made a very successful presentation. He had replaced his negative fears with confidence of success.
• Cultivate calmness. Relaxation exercises are helpful. Each group of muscles are first tensed and then relaxed. By focusing on muscle relaxation, the cycle of worry is broken. Within a week it is possible to reduce the level of worrying.
Prayer and meditation are also helpful. It is good to seek peace of mind within your religion. By focusing on God there is an interruption in the cycle of worry.
• “Habituation” is another method of conquering worry and is advocated by Rowland Folensbee, a psychologist. The worrier is encouraged to concentrate on productive thoughts during the day, and limit his worry to a fixed period of about thirty minutes. It should not be done close to bed time. During the 30-minute period, the person concentrates on all that is worrying him. He can even keep a list of things that worry him for ready reference. By confining worries to a limited period they simply seem to burn away, though nobody is sure how it works.
• Believe in your ability to snap out of worry. Accept problems as a pattern of life and turn them to your advantage. “Every problem contains the seeds of its own solution,” says Stanley Arnold.
Perhaps the solution to stop worrying is condensed in Reinhold Neibuhr’s prayer.
“Grant me the strength to change the things that need changing, the courage to accept things that cannot be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Eva Bell is a doctor of Medicine and also a freelance writer of articles, short stories, children stories.
Published in Indian magazines and newspapers, anthologies and also on the web.
Author of two novels, one non-fiction, two children’s books. Special interest- Travel and Women’s Issues.
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