Are You Addicted to Worrying?

Tips from a chronic pain recovery therapist

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

People like you and me who are prone to developing chronic pain and other chronic symptoms tend to have certain things in common. One of them is that our minds have developed a habit of chronic worrying.

If you recognize yourself in this description, you’re not alone. Many of my clients can relate and I’m right there with you!

Throughout my life, my mother has imparted to me this family saying from her mother: “Worrying is like money in the bank.”

What she means is that worrying will help you anticipate and avoid future problems. And coming from my grandmother, who survived the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, I can understand why a vigilant state of mind would be seen as vital for survival. And I can appreciate why she would want to pass down this wisdom to her daughters.

Worrying is our nervous system’s brilliant way of funneling all of our attention and focus into problem-solving during a survival emergency. It’s a normal response to stressful experiences. However, when worrying becomes chronic, the worry itself becomes a source of stress. And the habit of worrying can keep your nervous system in a constant state of high alert, thereby perpetuating chronic stress-fueled symptoms.

So how do we untangle ourselves from the habit of chronic worrying?

First, we have to really understand why we worry — and how it’s affecting us.

Your mind is addicted to worrying and finding problems to solve because it thinks that solving a problem will finally offer resolution to stress and bring feelings of safety and calm.

The problem is that when worry is habitual, it won’t actually bring that sense of peace and resolution that your mind is looking for. Habitual problem-solving will only give you a temporary hit of dopamine and then send you in search of more problems to solve so that you can get your next fix.

What you really need in order to find sustainable stress relief is to detox from habitual worry and problem-solving. Which isn’t easy by any means!

As someone who’s spent a lifetime prone to worrying, I empathize so much with how difficult it is to pull away from the worry spiral. From my own experience — both personally and professionally — here are some tips that may help you gradually detach from the habit of worrying:

1️⃣ When you notice this mind habit, name it. Maybe choose a silly name to call it by! And say that name out loud when you notice it happening.

2️⃣ After you name it, forgive yourself for it. Remind yourself that this is a habit your mind picked up to try to keep you safe. Your mind’s intentions are to protect you — even if this old habit isn’t so effective or useful anymore.

3️⃣ Worrying is so seductive because it offers the illusion that it will keep you safe by anticipating and preparing for any potential worst-case scenario.

But I invite you to ask yourself, the next time you feel the worry spiral coming on: “What is my objective? What do I hope to get out of this worrying session?”

Maybe the answer is, “Nothing! This is just a habit. What I’d actually rather be doing is enjoying this beautiful day!”

Or maybe the answer is, “I want to come up with a plan of action that will prepare me to navigate a potentially stressful future scenario.”

If that’s the case, then worrying will not get you your desired outcome. Planning will. And for planning, you need a cool, calm mind; not a mind that’s chasing its tail.

So, if you find yourself trying to worry your way into a plan, remind yourself that you’ll actually need to cool off first with grounding and relaxation before any constructive planning is possible.

To help your mind take a break from worrying, it might help to put a pin in whatever problem it’s chewing on and write down your objective. For example: “I want to come up with a plan of action for what I’ll do in the event that I get overwhelmed at the family reunion.” Or, “I want to come up with a budget so that I know I won’t go past my monthly spending limit.”

And then set it aside while you take the time to ground and cool down with this next step…

4️⃣ Redirect your focus toward something that fully absorbs your attention and brings you enjoyment. Maybe that’s immersing yourself in nature. Or engaging in physical exercise. Or stimulating your senses with nurturing and pleasurable inputs in the realm of taste, touch, smell, sound or sight. Or connecting socially with people who light you up.

5️⃣ Remember that this is a process and that it doesn’t happen overnight. At the same time, acknowledge that you’re in the process and you’re already making progress just by developing your awareness. Know that I’m cheering for you enthusiastically. This is not easy stuff, but you are doing it!

One final thought: Imagine what the benefits could be of detoxing from worry. What could it make space for in your life? Might you have room for more fun and enjoyment? More capacity to connect with loved ones in a fulfilling way? More attention and energy for your passion projects? I want that for you!

➡️ If you need support with chronic pain and anxiety, take my FREE QUIZ called “Why the *bleep* am I still in pain?!” so I can help you get some clarity.

And follow me on instagram for healing tips, inspiration and encouragement.

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