“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”
As a caregiver, has anyone ever told you to worry more or that you are not worried enough? Yes, that is a rhetorical question. From people who love and care for us to mental health professionals, the wisdom is there. Worrying doesn’t help us. It rarely spurs us on to solve a problem or take action. Is worrying ever productive? Are there any benefits to worrying? Even if your worrying is based on a realistic assessment of what might happen, it serves no real, useful purpose. Worrying doesn’t prepare us, help us build resilience, or help us find solutions. It is more likely to immobilize and interfere with effective problem solving. Worry also takes us right out of the present moment, out of what is happening right now.
Worry is, by definition, future oriented and usually involves “what if” thinking. As a caregiver, do you have any “what if” thoughts keeping you up at night or distracting and stressing you during the day?
- What if they fall and break something?
- What if this medication doesn’t help?
- What if I can’t take care of them any longer?
- What if I get sick? Have a heart attack? Get cancer?
- What if I lose my job? Have to quit my job?
- What if our money runs out?
- What if…
Our belief in our thoughts actually creates how we feel. When we believe our worry thoughts, the result is considerable tension, stress, and distress. We end up living as if the scenario we are worried about is actually happening right now and it isn’t!
So, how can we worry less? One thing we know for sure is that simply telling ourselves not to worry or having someone else tell us not to worry is as effective as trying to control the weather. It is good to have a number of different strategies to try out. You can then focus on the ones that work best for you.
Strategies to Deal with Worry
- Write it down. Your hand is slower than your mind. Writing down your thoughts can help slow down the worry thoughts.
- Examine your worry thoughts. Byron Katie has a simple and incredibly effective process that involves 4 contemplative questions that can be applied to your worry thoughts. The examination of your thoughts is most effective when you write them down. Visit her website for free worksheets (available in many languages) and/or if you want to see this process facilitated by Byron Katie. Think about the following questions and write down your answers.
- Is it true that this (worry) is going to happen?
- Do I absolutely know it is true that this (worry) is going to happen?
- How do I react when I believe that this (worry) is going to happen? (React includes how you feel emotionally and in your body, how you treat yourself, and how you treat others.)
- Who would I be without the worry? Imagine how you would feel and how you would treat yourself and others if you weren’t worrying.
- Schedule worry time. This is really about postponing worry. Instead of arguing with your mind and trying to force yourself not to worry, give yourself permission at a designated time in the future. You can even put it in your calendar. With the postponement, you create some worry-free time for yourself and people often find that the worry or the intensity of the worry has passed when it comes to the scheduled time. Postponing worry also helps to break a habit of dwelling on worries. As you develop the skill of postponing worrying, you also begin to realize that you have more control than you think.
- Establish practices to calm your mind and body. Worry ignites our nervous system. Choose a practice which is a good fit for you such as: meditation, yoga, relaxation exercises, and/or physical exercise.
- Practice acceptance. When all is said and done, if you know you can handle whatever life hands you, worry will have less traction with you. You can build this acceptance and resilience by playing out the worst case scenarios and deliberately accepting that what you are afraid of or worrying about could happen. Related to this, you can take the worst case scenario and tell yourself, “And if that happens, I will handle it.” Think about difficult situations in the past that you have handled. Literally picture yourself, imagine yourself, handling it. What does it look like? What are you doing differently? What are you saying to yourself and to others?
- Counter worry thoughts with positive, supportive statements. Worrying is a form of negative self-talk that is often a habit. Countering involves writing down and rehearsing positive statements. You create positive programming by writing down and rehearsing positive statements that directly refute or invalidate your negative, worry thoughts. This strategy is especially helpful if your worrying involves catastrophic thinking which is irrational and has no basis in facts.
- Consider mindfulness practices. As mentioned above, worrying is, by definition about the future. One of the most helpful ways to learn to live in the present/moment, is to practice mindfulness. You can learn to notice your worry thoughts and not engage them. If this interests you as a strategy to deal with worry, you may want to take this excellent (and free) 8 week online mindfulness-based stress reduction course: https://palousemindfulness.com/
- Consciously work with your “what if” thoughts and turn them into “How will I handle or deal with such and such if that does happen?” This is a deliberate effort to turn worrying into problem-solving.
- Practice ‘letting go’ of worry thoughts. Need help on how to do this? Read the article entitled How to Handle Caregiver Guilt and Other Negative Feelings.
If you are not worrying, what are you doing instead? You are living in the present. You are facing your fears. You are accepting uncertainty. You are being resilient. In order to stop worrying, any attachment to the belief that your worrying serves a useful purpose needs to be dropped like a hot potato! Left unchecked, worry will wreak havoc on your wellbeing, sucking the life and energy out of you. It can also have a negative impact on your relationships because if you are worrying you are by definition ‘in your head’ and not in the moment with others. Caregiving comes with much uncertainty and adopting strategies to learn to live with this uncertainty will serve you well as a caregiver.