Learning how to overcome worry is learning where our worry is rooted. Why do we worry? What kind of emotions is worry making me feel and how is my body responding to worry?
Nicole Zakowski and I go into detail about how to overcome worry and practical steps to take when worry or feelings of anxious arrises.
THE TRANSCRIPTION OF THIS EPISODE IS BELOW
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The Root of Worrying
Hi Nicole, thank you so much for being here with us today as we talk about this topic on how to overcome worry. I would like us to just get right into it – where does this come from? Why does it present itself in our bodies? I think often we bypass the root of worry; worry is just a symptom. Maybe you can talk about that a little bit.
Yes, you’re absolutely right. I consider anxiety a secondary emotion. Another word for that might be more of a reaction than a feeling or a primary emotion. Pain can come from two different directions – a violation of love which tells us who we are and a violation of trust which makes us feel unsafe. So we might feel helpless, powerless or we might feel like we’re unable to measure up to expectations, that were inadequate, or that we’re not good enough for the task we’re being asked to do.
This is what I see probably most often with worry – our brain starts trying to help us out by controlling more than we’re able to by overthinking it and worrying about it. And usually, that’s a sign that we’ve stepped beyond what we’re empowered to do, beyond what we have agency over and choices in, and we’re starting to worry about it because we’re in territory that we don’t have any control over.
How to Overcome Worry
Why don’t you talk to us a little bit about that overthinking process and how that begins to communicate to our bodies and what we can even feel in our bodies. Learning how to overcome worry and feeling anxious takes time.
Yeah, our bodies are so kind in so many ways. They will often alert us that there’s something we need to pay attention to or that we might not be giving proper attention to in our lives. And anxiety is a tricky one because often your body is trying to tell you something is not working in your life like you’re not keeping a schedule.
You’re saying yes to everything for fear of what will happen to you or your success if you say no. And your body is trying to tell you, “Hey, there’s a time to say yes and a time to say no, you’re saying yes too often this is not sustainable.” Instead, we try to quiet the anxiety and the symptom instead of asking, “What is driving that for me? Is it that I’m only as good as my last performance and that is what my value is based on?” So what you were talking about, of stepping beyond what we’re empowered to do.
I think a huge component when we feel unsafe or when we feel helpless or powerless is being able to say, “Okay, I may not be able to control the entirety of this situation, I may not even be able to control very much of it, but I am a human being who is empowered to make choices.” I can narrate this situation for myself. And so, be aware of the choices we have and be aware of what we would love to control and can’t.
A great journal exercise that I will have clients to overcome worry is to draw two large circles on a page and literally just brainstorm what are all the choices you have? What are all the things I can put my energy toward and actually make a difference? And then in the other circle, let’s brainstorm all the things we would really love to be able to control and can’t. And if you’re a person of faith, I think it’s a great prayer exercise to literally hand that other circle over knowing that we can trust God with all the things that we are not empowered over.
When we find ourselves worrying about it, it’s a sign that we’re trying to control something that we should be trusting God with. And then in this other circle, we can think about, “Okay, here are my choices.” And yes, God’s involved in that too. And I can depend on Him through the power of the Holy Spirit to make right and good choices. But that’s where my energy is best spent.
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How Does Being Anxious Affect Our Bodies
I love that you were talking about how kind our bodies are. I think so many women believe that their bodies are against them and then we’re not speaking life or breathing life. God created your body. I truly believe that when there are things happening in our bodies that indicate anxiety, it is an invitation to create space and go to God.
I would love for you to talk about how worry shows up in our life, especially in the day-to-day, so people can pinpoint it better.
We can’t change what we won’t name. So awareness is key because I always think of the verse in Ephesians that talks about taking off the old self and putting on the new. We have to know what it is that we’re taking off in order to be able to do that. So yeah, to your point, worry can be so physical. I think if you can catch it in the overthinking phase, that’s great. But I think noticing it in your body is a great entry point if you’re new to this awareness. Maybe you wake up in the morning and there’s a heaviness in your chest as soon as you start to think about your day.
On a more scheduled line of thinking, things like lack of sleep, not eating normally, not prioritizing sort of basic human needs – even exercise, your routine is thrown off. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but they’re clues on how you can begin to overcome worry.
Then the underneath layer there would be, where does your mind go when left on neutral? That’s a huge clue to me, not only faith speaking to the idols in my life, but also my worry is surrounding my idols because I’m trying so hard to control my own will. I find that most common in my practice that worry tends to be related to control. But where does your mind go when left on neutral?
What’s the first thing you think about when you wake up in the morning? What are you thinking about when you go to bed at night? What tends to rule your conversations? And I hesitate to mention this one because I don’t like to bring the idea of performance into our prayers. I do think it’s helpful to notice, certainly in my prayer life, what am I spending most of my prayer on? He wants to hear it all. However, I think that is another clue to where we’re investing our thought life and our emotional life.
Our Brains Being Neutral
Can you talk a little bit more about what it means when you’re talking about your brain being neutral?
Winnicott is somebody that I studied a lot in graduate school, and he has this idea of transitional space. The best picture I have of transitional space is sort of like that toddler in the car seat in the backseat of your car, where there’s no music on and they’re looking out the window and observing – their mind is on autopilot thinking about lots of different things. As adults, I think we have to work to put transitional space into our daily routine to overcome worry. But it’s the margins, it’s when we’re not a part of any conversations or we’re not studying anything.
Where does our brain wander? What subject does our brain sort of circle around? And for me, I notice that it tends to go toward what I’m worried about. And I have some choices in that conversation in my mind. Nobody will ever know what that conversation looks like. However, I have some choices in terms of how I can engage that. I can either say, “Okay, here’s what choices are available to me, and here’s what I can control. I’m going to focus there.” Then I’m going to pray about the rest as an exercise of surrender. I will do this because I don’t believe that my worries are better invested in my own head. They are in the hands of God.
I love that you’re talking about margin because I believe it’s in those mindless margin moments that we actually get to bear the stories that we carry. Because it’s not going from one thing to the next. You’re not trying to shove it aside. You’re not trying to push anything aside. It’s an opportunity to take your thoughts captive and put them against the word of God. Ask, “what is the reality of this? What is truth to this?” Because when we don’t have those mindless moments, we don’t know what we’re really thinking about or what it is that we’re experiencing or feeling.
Those are the only times that we really get to address the pain, the stories, the narratives because otherwise, we’re just in a rush and in a hurry.
We will be ruled by the feelings we don’t name and acknowledge. Feelings are such important informants, and they are very real. We are not robots; we go through life as feeling people paying attention to a hurting world and a broken world. But they do not have the final say. There is a difference between feelings being real and feelings being true. And so to your point, those margin moments are such sacred moments. Important moments when learning to overcome worry. It’s such a sacred time to engage the very real feelings that you carry with the truth. And if those two things aren’t talking to each other, it’s very hard to get to a new place.
Let’s talk about practical ways how to overcome worry. Are there one or two things that you like to do with your clients when they start to feel the worry or they are aware of it, to be able to bring themselves back to reasoning? How much do relationships matter?
There are three truths in the midst of worry that I think are wonderful footholds. The first is to remember when learning how to overcome worry is we’re not alone. That doesn’t eliminate the pain, but it does change the pain. Certainly, many of us would say we have a community that’s walking through those hard times with us, whether that’s family members, friends, colleagues. And if you’re a person of faith, we always have the comfort of the Holy Spirit. (Which is a very real company that we often don’t access.)
Then the second foothold is what we were talking about earlier. And I think a really great journal exercise is those two circles. So yes, I do not have control of this whole situation. And there’s a freedom in acknowledging that. So I’m not going to try just to control it. I’m also going to call my brain out saying, “Thank you so much for trying to help me by worrying about it, but this is not the way.” So I’m going to retrain my brain to focus on what I’m empowered to do, which is the choices I can put energy toward and actually make a difference. I’m going to focus my energy there. I am not going to step outside that circle. Anything written in that other circle that I would love to control and can’t belong in my prayer life.
There’s a brain science here – moving your body. So if you are praying and you’re a worrier, notice how you’re holding your hands. And if you need to pray about something in that circle that you would love to control and can’t, literally open your hands, palms up, stand up in a posture of release or get on your knees – sculpt your body to picture that release; it moves something in our brain more than just thinking about it.
Also speaking it out loud. Our brain processes that differently, when we surrender things out loud versus just thinking about what we planned to surrender in our heads. So it processes it in a different part of the brain when it hears it. We can only say one thing at a time and we can think about a million things at a time. Depending on where you are in your process, the third truth is if I have to go through this situation that’s causing me so much worry, how can I grow through it?
What are the treasures in the wake of what feels broken and lost that I can pick up? Either in terms of the situation itself or my own personal growth? How is this growing me? What are the invitations here in my relationship with God and my relationship with myself? I think those are really important choices that we can make in terms of, we all go through things that make us feel fearful, but what is the narrative I’m going to carry forward? Because that is my that is a choice I have as I learn how to overcome worry.