The Buddhists have a simple rule when it comes to worrying: don’t. This is easier said than done. Humans have the tendency toward the negative, depressing, and dreadful, even when the things we worry about rarely ever happen. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its troubles, yet we do it anyway. And this incessant worrying, if left unchecked, may lead to chronic anxiety.
Anxiety: An Increasingly Widespread Problem
Anxiety is a nervous emotion born of the tension that comes when we worry about our safety or the safety of others. It affects one in 13 people worldwide. In the US, 18.1% of the population, or 40 million adults aged 18 years and older, suffer from an anxiety disorder. Factors that can trigger and cause anxiety include genetics, chemical imbalances in the brain, personality type, and even life events.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental disorder in the US.
According to a survey conducted by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in March 2018, almost 40% of Americans were more anxious than they were compared to the previous year. The common stressors were security and safety of family, health concerns, bills and expenses, the impact of politics on daily life, and relationships with family, friends, and colleagues.
Negative Effects of Worrying
Fear and worry are reactions that helped the human race to survive in the wilderness. This is why worrying is hard-wired into our brains. But while worrying and anxiety are helpful responses, prolonged stress can have ill effects on your well-being. For example, exposing ourselves to constant stress can result in:
- Muscle tension, we breathe faster, and our heart beats faster: This can result in headaches, tension migraines and nausea, and indigestion problems like acid reflux, heartburn, fatigue, diarrhea, constipation, and muscle soreness.
- Serious medical conditions: Heart disease, diabetes, ulcers, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. It has also been observed that stress hormones weaken our immune system, thereby reducing our capability to flush out toxins.
- Impact on our daily activities: When we are stressed, we may have trouble sleeping and getting adequate rest. Our appetite will also decline. Without enough rest and proper nutrition, our body loses the capability to ward off diseases.
- Losing our ability to focus and retain information: This translates to mediocre job performance and low output.
- Impact on our lifestyle: We begin to neglect our health routines and exercise. Stress may also induce substance abuse, eating disorders, and withdrawal from social circles.
- Worry and stress make us irritable or aggressive and withdrawn: When we are stressed, we also tend to misplace our pent up emotions and inadvertently lash out on our loved ones. This could damage relationships.
How to Stop Worrying and Start Living in the Present
We need to take conscious steps to stop the debilitating act of worrying. Here are some suggestions:
1. Watch What We Put Into Our Bodies
Drinks that contain caffeine stimulate the fight or flight response, which increases nervousness and leaves us more anxious. Unhealthy food negatively affects our hippocampus, the area of our brains that controls learning, memory and mental health. Cutting back on stimulating drinks and unhealthy food is the best starting point to anxiety reduction.
2. Find a Way to Ground Yourself During Stressful Episodes
During moments of high stress, we often lose track of reality and absorb ourselves in worries of the future. In these stressful moments, use a relaxation technique to bring you back to the present. Listening to calming music or going for a walk are some of the most common and efficient practices.
3. Focus on Things You Can Control
In the book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey introduces the concepts of Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence. The Circle of Concern holds the things that are beyond our control, while the Circle of Influence carries the things that we have power over. Define your circle of influence. Work on the things that you do have control over.
4. Identify Your Worries and Work Towards a Solution
There are going to be things that we are naturally going to worry about. Addressing these worries allows us to identify the problem so that we can find a solution in the present, that way we don’t have to deal with it in the future.
5. Appreciate the Little Things, Every Day
Our society is so focused on long-term goals and achievements that we often dismiss the simple pleasures of everyday life. Celebrating or indulging in these moments will allow us to gain a stronger appreciation for the present.
6. Lastly, Acknowledge the Pointlessness of Worrying
Worrying saps our energy and impairs our ability to make sound decisions. It muddles our mind and has ill effects on our health. Most importantly, it rarely solves the problem.
A lot of times, we equate worrying with caring. We conclude that when we don’t worry, we don’t care. There are productive ways to use our mental energies, but worrying is certainly not one of them. Accepting our worries and figuring out how to deal with them is the best course we can take in battling our anxiety.