Are Your Worries Keeping You Trapped?

(And 9 Ways to Overcome Excessive Worrying)

“I keep my worries in a box
I count them one by one.
And every day I watch them grow
while wishing there were none.”

*Lisa is a worrier. She worries about everything and everyone. 

She worries about doing the right things, saying the things. She worries about her kids, her husband’s job, finances and her parents’ health. She worries about her weight, her brother’s drinking problem, her best friend’s recent biopsy. She worries about traffic, the weather, the dog.

It’s a problem, a serious one. It causes her to lose sleep, gain weight. And now when she looks in the mirror there are more lines on her face.

Her worries are aging her.

But she doesn’t know how to stop worrying. It’s become second nature for her.

She tries to explain it away.

“I’m just high strung,” she tells herself. “I’m a Type A personality. I can’t help myself.” She wishes she could be Susan, who just seems to go through life with a bounce in her step and a perpetual smile on her face no matter how difficult life is. But she’s not.

Could she be? 

Everybody worries. Worries are those niggling little thoughts you have that you either keep to yourself or verbalize, when something difficult is looming or a situation is stressful. It’s normal to worry. It can even be useful because worrying about something can propel you to take action.

But worry is only one aspect of something greater—anxiety. 

There are three components to anxiety: cognitive, emotional and physiological. 

Let’s say, for example, you have a major deadline coming up and you’ve procrastinated. The worrying thought of what might happen if you don’t (cognitive), causes you to feel dread (emotional). Your heart begins to race, your palms get sweaty and your stomach knots up (physiological). 

Anxiety is a normal reaction to normal stressors. Chronic, excessive anxiety, however, is not normal. Close to 40 million Americans suffer from an anxiety disorder, according to some sources. An anxiety disorder develops when your response to stress causes impairment on multiple levels. Indications that you may have a disorder include:

  • Excessive, severe and persistent worrying
  • Extreme physiological symptoms, i.e. heart palpitations, hyperventilating, nausea
  • Avoidance of anxiety-producing situations

It’s a serious problem, and it’s a huge block to being able to live intentionally.

Lisa knows that firsthand. She sees her husband’s frustration with her. 

“Why do you worry so much?” he constantly asks her. “Just relax. It will be fine. It always works out.”

She knows he’s right but it’s aggravating to hear him say it at times. 

“He doesn’t understand,” she tells herself. 

She sees her youngest daughter doing the same though—worrying—and she worries about that. 

What is she teaching her children?

She’s pretty sure it’s cost her a promotion too. Her worries about being good enough, producing enough…maybe she’s come across as insecure and lacking in confidence?

Lisa may not have a disorder yet. But she’s headed in that direction if she doesn’t stop herself now.

The way to manage anxiety is to manage your thinking

You manage your anxiety by controlling your thoughts. That means, addressing those worries that continually plague you. Here’s how you do it.

1. Create a specific time to worry 

It’s unrealistic to think that you won’t ever worry. So fine, let yourself worry. But do it in an intentional way. As you recognize your worries, write them down somewhere—your phone, a notebook, a journal. Tell yourself that you will attend to them later. Then, in conversation with God, pull them out and address them one by one. Give them to Him. And when you are done, leave them there!

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;” (Philippians 4:6)

2. Ask yourself “Is this something I can solve?”

So much of what we worry about is out of our control. If you want to live intentionally, then reserve your mental energy for the things you can work on. As you make changes, your worries about those things will diminish. Let God handle the rest.

3. Accept uncertainty

Some people, like Lisa, struggle with worry because they don’t like uncertainty. But can we really know everything about life? Is that realistic? Do we even need to know? Knowing what the future holds doesn’t decrease your worries. It only gives you something new to worry about! Leave the future in God’s very capable hands and get on with what you need to be doing right now. “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye.” (Psalm 32:8)

4. Recognize your influence on others…and vice versa

It’s catching. That anxiety that Lisa struggles with is infecting her family and her friendships. And most importantly, her relationship with God has been affected. People don’t want to spend time with her because she’s so negative. And her anxieties prevent her from trusting God. She tries to turn her worries over to Him. But every time she does, she grabs them back again. 

Negativity is toxic to those who want to live intentionally, so select your confidantes wisely. Nothing will kill your hopes and dreams faster than someone who throws a dose of “reality” on you with –

 “Are you sure that’s wise?” or 

“Aren’t you worried about how that will turn out?” or 

“What if you fail?”

5. Challenge wrong thinking

One of Lisa’s greatest problems is that her thoughts get all twisted up and distorted. Cognitive distortions make it difficult for Lisa to see her life accurately. That happens in a number of ways. For example:

  • All or nothing thinking

Example: Seeing herself as a failure if her house isn’t spotless.

  • Overgeneralizing

Example: Her last project at work got lukewarm feedback, so probably all her future efforts will too.

  • Filtering out the positives

Example: Focusing on her husband’s comment about the vegetables being slightly overdone, but ignoring his rave reviews about the rest of the meal.

  • Jumping to conclusions

Example: When she’s not scheduled for her regular work shifts she thinks that her manager doesn’t like her.

  • Mind reading

Example: She’s giving a presentation and notices someone nodding off. She tells herself, “I must be so boring that he can’t stay awake.”

  • Predicting the future

Example: She just knows that the holiday coming up at her in-laws’ house will be disastrous.

  • Catastrophizing or minimizing

Example: Her artwork that she submitted won first prize but all she focused on were the negative comments from an art dealer. She refuses to show her art again.

  • Emotional reasoning

Example: She feels terrible about her daughter’s poor behavior at school. It must mean she’s a bad parent.

  • Labeling/mislabeling

Example: She tells herself she’s lazy and fat after binging on ice cream instead of going to the gym.

  • Personalizing

Example: She walks into a room and no one looks at her. It must be because of something she’s said or done.

  • Expecting the worst

Example: The boss calls her up and says, “We need to talk.” She just knows she’s going to get fired.

  • Blaming/Denying

Example: She takes none of the blame for the argument she and her husband had, focusing only on all the ways he’s wrong.

7. Interrupt the cycle of worrying

When you catch yourself worrying about stuff, do something different. Do something that will help shift your mood. Try these:

  • Write out some scriptures that you find encouraging on a 3×5 card. Then go for a walk or sit somewhere comfortable, and read the scriptures out loud. Talk or write to God in a prayer journal about what those scriptures mean and how they specifically apply to you.
  • Exercise for least 20 minutes and elevate your heart rate, which releases endorphins. You need these to fight anxiety.
  • Turn on some soothing instrumental music and do some deep breathing.
  • Find a progressive relaxation script online. Record it and then play it back while lying down in a quiet, comfortable place.

8. Talk about it

Don’t hold your worries in where they only fester and grow. Talk about them, but in useful ways. Talk to God. Talk to a friend you can trust who can help you see your distorted thinking. Talk to your pastor who can give you spiritual counsel about God and how His Word is filled with encouragement and positivity. Talk to a professional who can give you tools to combat your negativity. Build a strong system of positive people who are loving and encouraging.

9. Be mindful

The concept of mindfulness is widely used these days, but its origins go back thousands of years. And you don’t have to practice Buddhism or Hinduism to see or reap the benefits of being mindful.

But what should you be mindful of?

Mindfulness teaches you to focus on the present, which is useful. After all, many of your worries are about the past or the future, two places that aren’t useful to visit. When you are mindful of your worries you acknowledge them. You recognize them for what they are and you identify the distorted thinking that is present. You don’t engage with your worries. In other words, you don’t dwell on them or nurture them into full blown anxiety. But as a Christian you need to also be mindful of other things:

  • Worry is a tool of your enemy (II Corinthians 2:11)
  • Worry robs you of faith (Matthew 8:26)
  • God’s spirit is one of power, not fear (II Timothy 1:7)

So be mindful. But be mindful, not just of your anxiety, but of the powerful tools at your disposal for combatting it! 

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

You don’t have to worry anymore

So okay, you’re more like Lisa than you want to be. Guess what, you’re normal. 

But now what?

What you do, from this moment forward, will define your ability to take charge, to live intentionally, to let God guide you. And He will, don’t worry.

*Names changed to protect privacy


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