Managing Our Seasons of Worry
Updated: Mar 24, 2020
Can anyone of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? Matthew 6:27
Two weeks ago, this post was a lot different and focused on managing the worry and stress of tax season. The world has since given us a lot more to worry about. Even with the change in source and magnitude of worry, a lot of the strategies remain the same. To manage stress, we need ways to connect our physical and emotional selves with the outside world, even when physically distancing ourselves from one another. We also need strategies that turn inward and help us manage our internal dialogues about stressors. Below are techniques I use during my seasons of worry. I hope you find them helpful.
Outward Focused Stress-Reduction Strategies:
Be Physically Active: While a little stress can be good for us, long-term persistent worrying can lead to stress hormones causing wear and tear on our bodies through chronic inflammation, immune suppression, and other processes. Physical activity helps burn off stress-related hormones and triggers the release of hormones that improve mental and physical health. Developing a physical activity routine can help manage stress long term, and when you are in a season of worry, remember to take physical activity breaks often. With distancing in mind: Walk or run in your neighborhood if possible, garden, or create an at-home workout. Many gyms and exercise programs are offering classes or at-home workout routines online, many are free or have waived fees for the time being. My Pilates class, which has been meeting regularly for years, is holding our twice weekly class via conference call.
Stay Connected: We are social beings and staying connected to our loved ones is another way to tap into those feel-good hormones that help us cope with worry and stress. Sometimes it helps to talk about the worry or stressor, but it is also okay to escape into the mundane and talk about the latest show you binge watched or why Tom Brady is going to Tampa Bay. With distancing in mind: Less face-to-face connections and added worry about older family members and friends makes it an important time to stay connected any way you can – Video, text, or just old-fashion call family and friends. With religious services cancelled, call congregation members who may be alone or who are on your heart to stay connected and keep community. My current connection rotation is: call mom and dad daily; FaceTime with my sister and nephews daily-every other day; call or text a different friend, congregation member, or neighbor every few days.
Inwardly Focused Stress-Reduction Strategies:
Clear the Mind: Worry and negative thoughts can become negative “what if” stories that continue in a cycle. Clearing the mind through meditation or contemplative or centering prayer helps us create a break in the cycle of negative thoughts and stories. The steps are pretty simple, but take some practice:
Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit where you will not be disrupted.
Close your eyes and clear you mind of current thoughts.
Bring your focus lightly to your breath or a mantra or sacred word while remaining open to your surroundings. If internal focusing is difficult, focus on the ebb and flow of sounds in your environment.
When thoughts arise, notice them and let them go. The work is not to stop having thoughts during this time. The work is to notice you are having a thought, not judge or follow the thought, but resume your focus on your breath, mantra, sacred word, or sounds.
I set a timer to end my practice. Practice time varies – I try to get in 15 minutes a day with a goal towards one day being able to sit for the gold standard of 45 minutes a day.
Journaling is another way to help get worry onto paper so it is less likely to be ruminated over by the mind. Using meditation/centering prayer, journaling, or both regularly can help prevent our constant calling up of our favorite worry to ponder. During a season of worry, they can also help jump start the next strategy of identify the root of the worry.
Inquire about the Worry: Like a massage, when the masseuse finds the right pressure for a particularly tight spot, understanding the source of our worry, can lead to a magical release in tension. This is a time when a life coach, a therapist, or an activity such as The Work by Byron Katie may be helpful. We all have our top worries (money, children, work, etc.) and we often fall into the habit of accessing these worries over and over, especially during times of stress and seasons of worry. I have been nudging my worry over the past week with the occasional: “Why am I worried now?” “Why is my body feeling tense now?” “Where did that negative thought come from?” This easy questioning of my worry and tension has helped me with the next strategy.
Reframe the Situation: Optimism has been associated with better mental and physical health outcomes. Having faith of a spiritual or religious nature has been linked to greater optimism. In the midst of stress and worry, how do you find the silver lining or reframe a situation to see the positive? Like physical activity, journaling, and meditation, this too may take practice. Finding the “blessing” may be hard in our current situation. I have found it particularly hard as just before quarantines and other restrictions began, I put in an offer on a house in another state as I will begin a faculty position there in August. I read a post on Instagram by @enneagramandcoffee that suggested using our time during social distancing and self-quarantine to work on a passion project, new skill, or self-growth. As a planner who likes to wrestle my life into submission, I am using this time of dualling stressors to grow in my ability to ride the waves of uncertainty. To improve my wave-riding skills, I am reflecting on the words of Matthew 6:27 when I feel panic or worry. I have the verse as a note on my refrigerator and use it as a reminder to focus on the now, having faith in what has come and what will be, versus focusing on all the potential “what if” scenarios. I am also participating in a 5-day online mindfulness workshop to grow my mindfulness practice and use of mindfulness strategies in everyday life.
I would love to hear how you and yours handle seasons of worry, and I am always available to answer questions at firstname.lastname@example.org