'You Can't Worry...' But 5 steps to take if you do.
There are no such things as 'Emotions'.
Lisa Feldman Barrett is a Neuroscientist and Psychologist from the Northeastern University with links to Harvard Medical School. Her speciality lies in studying emotion and her research, amongst many other emerging findings, show that emotions are not elements hardwired into our brains from birth, but rather things that we learn and construct as a response to particular stimuli (things that encourage a reaction) as we grow.
As Lisa stated in an interview with The Verge 'expressions that we have been told are the correct ones are actually just stereotypes' that can be expressed differently by different people. Which means that how we respond to stimuli is not a fixed objective reaction, but rather a reaction that can be learned and unlearned by the individual doing it.
How does this relate to worry?
We worry mostly because we fear the future. We can't see the future and knowing that takes away from our locus of control that usually makes us feel like empowered individuals. We also worry because we have no guarantee that the decisions we make are right for us, so we worry if we have wasted time. Worry as an 'emotion', or reaction for like of a better word, is something that has physical attributes as well as psychological ones. Physically, worrying can cause changes in appetite, excessive sweating, lack/increase in sleep and in excess amounts, can lead to anxiety which can change how you live your life altogether. Psychologically, worrying can lead to increased feelings of tension, increased worrying that you're worrying and depersonalisation - feeling really far from your normal self. So we can see that worrying has more adverse effects than positive ones.
It is so hard not to worry especially when we are so used to doing it. And in some cases we get caught up in a dark space of finding comfort in worrying since it's a means of focusing on our issues in depth. However worrying is passive. Yes you're thinking about your issues, but worrying does nothing to change them. Yes you're thinking of your options, but worrying often makes you think of things in a much worse light than they really are. In the face of worry, taking a second or so to decide to not worry and be more logical in your thinking process, can actually be very handy to both your physical and mental health.
How to worry less
I always advise clients that one of the first steps to worrying less is acknowledgement. And this is the crucial step that comes before acceptance. And acceptance allows you to differentiate between the things you can control and the things you can't. So you can only act on what you have control over leading to increased feelings of empowerment. I'll explain below:
Acknowledgement: Acknowledgement is the recognition of a situation or life event for exactly what it is. Away from your emotions, what is the situation at hand? What are you working with? This is a means of really coming to terms with the - sometimes harsh - reality that what is currently happening in your life is real. This also saves you from worrying about things you don't need to because acknowledgement encourages you to only recognise facts. You can see acknowledgement as the recognition of the external. Acknowledgement is the 'Okay, so this is what is really happening'.
Acceptance: In some means, acceptance is very similar to acknowledgement. However, acceptance is recognising the reality of the situation, the fact that it is affecting you and how. It's focused more on your coming to terms with how this situation is affecting you, rather than recognising it's even happening in the first place. You can see acceptance as the internalisation of the external - if you've acknowledged your situation properly you should only be internalising what is necessary. Acceptance is the 'This is really happening, and it's affecting me. It's affecting me like this...'
(Alot of the time acknowledgement and acceptance happen simultaneously, which can cause a blur in your thoughts, but I hope this break down allows you to see things much clearer)
Differentiation: Once you have accepted your situation, the next thing is to differentiate between what is within your locus of your control and what isn't. One thing we can definitely control, with practice and discipline, are our reactions. We often choose not to because it's inconvenient to our usual manner of living when we are used to reacting to things in a certain way. Once we know what we have control over, we know where we have the power to change. Differentiation is the 'In this situation, I have control over x,y,z,'
Action: In the action stage, you have control over elements of the situation and total control of your behaviour. In regards to the situation, what are you going to do to change this situation or make it better for yourself? In regards to your behaviour, imagine your life as a target with you as the bullseye. When the bullseye gets bigger, the layers around it get smaller. Meaning when you work on becoming bigger than your situation, you take charge over how it affects you. You regain control of your life, experience fewer feelings of being overwhelmed/out of control, and only the controllable elements of the situation are important to you rather than taking in the whole situation and its elements beyond your control.
Empowerment: Once you have taken your action, take a second to reflect on your progress. Look at the moves you've made, identify how the bullseye has become bigger. Take a second to recognise how empowered you are to have control in a situation you once saw as uncontrollable and internalise that. This will not only add to your general confidence, but your confidence in dealing with future worrisome situations. When things get overwhelming, we feel like we are drowning with no say in how quickly that happens, but reminding ourselves of how empowered we are to be able to think, change our course of thinking, take action and manifest our reactions as we deem fit, builds a type of confidence that is only yours to tamper with.
We worry for a reason. Worrying can be an indicator of something not being right and hence, an advocate for change. However, prolonged periods of worry that lead to inaction, anxiety and physical symptoms, which we all go through, do nothing for you or your situation. Hopefully the 5 steps above show you how to manifest your worry into something feasible for yourself, rather than a horrible hole to get stuck in.
For more reading on Lisa's work on Emotions, you can buy her book: 'How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of The Brain'.
In the mean time, remind yourself that your life is a fluid piece. Nothing is fixed. Just as you learn things, you can unlearn them and re-learn them differently. It just takes time and discipline.
Hard work, yes, but not impossible.
Be The Best You.