If there’s one thing most of us are not lacking, it’s opportunities to worry. From economic problems to family issues to our health, there’s an endless list of things that can cause worry.
Worrying about real things in our lives it isn’t always a bad thing, though perhaps not a very enjoyable one. Being worried performs a needed function, getting us to focus on an issue and, hopefully, to take action.
But we can also suffer from needless worry. This is worry about things that are imaginary or out of our control. Such worry is harmful as it raises stress levels, yet comes from things we can do nothing about.
Excessive worry is not only unpleasant and stressful, but can lead to very real health issues. Worrying stimulates our bodies to produce various chemicals, such as adrenaline, that cause physiological reactions, such as muscle tension, increased blood pressure and higher heart rates.
The physical reaction to constant worry can result in headaches, back pain and stomach problems. There’s evidence it also affects our immune system, leaving us more vulnerable to viruses and bacteria, and perhaps even cancer, and appears to increase the risk of heart attack and strokes.
So how can you reduce worry in your life? Start by analyzing how real the source of your worrying is. If it’s something over which you have control and can do something about, then channel your worry into action. Develop a plan for dealing with the cause of your worry, and then carry it out.
But if your source of worry is outside your control, it will continue to cause you emotional and physical problems without allowing you a way to deal with the problem.
Your goal is to stop such needless worry before it takes control of your emotions. One way is to rechannel your thoughts. A simple diversion, such as music, a book, talking to a friend or getting some exercise, can often help. It takes practice to refocus your thoughts away from needless worry, but it can be done.
Once the worry is under control, then think about how real the source of that worry is and whether it’s something you might better ignore, rather than letting it control you.
If you find that chronic worry, especially over things you can’t control or influence, is negatively affecting your life, consider talking to a counseling professional who can offer a variety of ways to help reduce the worry in your life.
“The Counseling Corner” is provided as a public service by the American Counseling Association, the nation’s largest organization of counseling professionals. Learn more about the counseling profession at the ACA web site, www.counseling.org.