You may be familiar with Alfred E. Neuman, the fictional mascot of Mad magazine. If not, you should know that his well-known catch phrase is, “What, me worry?” Perhaps he knows the secret to not worrying. But in our world today many people are very worried. We are going through what might be called a national anxiety attack with the economy collapsing around us. So, how not to worry?
I believe there exist two types of worriers: those who become worried, take any possible action, and then let it go; and those who worry chronically, causing themselves and others a great deal of mental and emotional distress. The latter often are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Below examples of people who have coped effectively with fear and worry.
Erin, the mother of an 8-year-old daughter, realized she needed to stop her obsessive worrying when she saw it being reflected in her daughter. So Erin made some changes. First she reduced the amount of time both of them watched television, especially the news. She caught herself saying “what if…” frequently, so she made a conscientious effort to catch herself and reword her thoughts. On the weekends, they attended a mother-child yoga class. Basically, she modeled a less stressful way of thinking and coping for her daughter—and they both benefited.
If an attack of worry was triggered, Erin found that she could change her mental state by changing her physical state by doing five to ten minutes of intense exercise, such as running up and down a flight of stairs. Such a burst of activity helped her refocus her worried mind and shift it to something more productive. These proactive strategies may have helped prevent Erin and her daughter from developing an anxiety disorder.
Mark, a dentist, has been a recovering alcoholic for the last eight years. Mark’s drinking had distracted him from the anxiety he’d experienced since his early adulthood. Sobriety meant confronting his fears, which caused him to worry constantly. He used alcohol to self-medicate his generalized anxiety disorder. Also known as GAD, this disorder is characterized by persistent, excessive, and unrealistic worry about everyday things. By sticking to his program of twice weekly AA meetings, Mark learned to take life one day at a time.
When fear and worry began to plague him, he learned to focus on “just today.” This was made easier by his AA group, which is also a source of social support. At an AA meeting, he could express openly what worried him. One of the ideas behind AA is “letting go and letting God,” a reminder to Mark that he is not in control of everything and that he must let go of some things and trust in a universal wisdom.
The last example is Sara, who belonged to a deeply troubled family. Her father, an alcoholic, would threaten to kill the family with one of his guns when he was intoxicated. Her mother was a passive and depressed woman who could barely take care of her three daughters. Child protective services visited the family regularly when she was growing up. Despite it all, Sara was an excellent student who attended college on a scholarship and became a teacher. However, the trauma of her childhood left her with a nagging fear that something would happen to ruin her life—a natural disaster, an illness, a car accident, to name a few possibilities. She had a mild variation of posttraumatic stress disorder.
Psychotherapy helped her realize that she had resilience in the face of hardship. She learned to take a fearful thought to its worst-case scenario. When she thought it through, she became aware that she would most likely be able to cope and survive. Sara also learned that nothing stays the same, that everything passes. After her father had a stroke, he no longer terrorized his family. Her mother grew active in a church group and was no longer depressed. She would remind herself of this to calm her worried mind.
It is my hope the coping strategies of these people will inspire you to consider trying those that resonate. But do not hesitate to seek help from a trained health care professional. You have many options to ease your worried mind and overcoming your fears.
I will end this article with a quote from Mark Twain: “I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”