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Overcoming Worry

The first time I heard the phrase “no worries” I believe I was about 7 years old and it came from the mouths of some colorful Disney characters. Of course, at the time this whole concept seemed rather easily obtainable seeing as how my greatest responsibility was making sure I took a shower and brushed my teeth on a daily basis.

Nowadays, most would find this concept to be comically unachievable or nearly nonexistent in their current adult lives. Worrying has become such an integral part of our lives that today’s human has developed the most horrific psychological disorders from anxiety alone, which has lead to the most severe symptoms, like depression, and eventually effects our physiological systems as well (not so good for us physical culturists; cortisol=catabolism). Some might argue that constant worry is a good thing.

This would stem from the effects of eustress, or good stress, vice the negative effects of distress. But that is an entirely different topic, which I will not get into today. So what is worrying exactly, and why do we do it? Is it the same as fear or anxiety? Is it possible to overcome worry and achieve a mindset clear and free of worry altogether, or is it something we just have to live with? If we cannot completely overcome worry, then what can we do to reduce the effects?

What does worry actually do to us?

Disturbingly, the origin of the word “worry” comes from the Old English term “wyrgan,” which at the time meant “to strangle.” Ironically, this really isn’t much different from what worrying can do to our minds and our bodies. Worrying is an emotion that distracts our brains from taking action. This is driven by the anticipation of some future event that is out of your control and takes over the brain with never-ending chatter further clouding your ability to attack the events head-on. Why does this happen?

Here we go with the science. Bear with me. Well, from the time you are born, the brain starts developing neural pathways and associations with whatever you take the time to “practice,” whether it is to walk on two feet, learn to play an instrument, or do something as simple as breath.

The more we practice, the more developed these neural pathways become. Some of us, unfortunately, choose to “practice” worrying to the point of exhaustion. Excessive worry, which can lead to anxiety, eventually takes over the brain’s ability to feed effort in other realms of our lives. It overwhelms us. Once you reach depression it’s going to be a long road back to start reforming these pathways.

Medications can only provide a temporary “band-aid” to the brain as they affect the brain’s chemistry instead of addressing the source; the neural pathways. The mind must be retrained to overcome the excessive worrying.

Hopefully, for most of us, we don’t ever reach this point. I’m sure that it would be a long road to recovery. Do I believe that the human mind is capable of completely freeing itself of worry? Yes. Would I want to if I could? Probably not. You’re probably thinking, “What, why the hell not?!”

Although the human mind is not a muscle, it sure has the ability to adapt to external stimuli like a muscle, and when a muscle is overworked and the ability to adapt has been overridden it basically shuts down until it has the proper fuel and rest required to rebuild. The brain works in a similar way and can fall to the same doom.

By allowing ourselves to fill our minds with constant worry that never gets addressed it just builds up until the brain can no longer function or focus on anything else. It shuts down. The idea here is that worrying can be good in the sense that it can keep us alert of impending deadlines or dangers which in turn allow our minds to develop plans to attack certain situations. This can lead to the development of more positive neural pathways that help us survive. The key is to not let yourself reach the undesirable “meltdown” stage. We do this by taking action in many positive forms: physical activity (my favorite), reading, writing, playing an instrument, meditating (takes practice) etc.

These actions can help take your mind off of these worries you have developed and reapply its energy away from them. Another way you can reduce the worry is just to be honest with yourself: “Can I really do anything about X event taking place in X amount of time?” If the answer is “no,” then quit worrying and go apply your energy to something else. If something can in fact be done in preparations for this impending event then DO IT! Once you have accomplished as much as possible in its anticipation then that’s all you can do. The worst thing you can do is allow your worries to build and build until they completely take over your brain’s ability to function and work on anything else.

Some even turn to temporary stimuli such as sugary foods, alcoholic beverages, and other substances that, again, like medications, have the ability to manipulate your brain chemistry through the production and release of certain hormones that “block” the neural pathways, but only for a short amount of time.

Overcoming fear and anxiety is a normal and inevitable part of human life. If life were completely absent from fear and anxiety then a lot of us probably wouldn’t be alive any more. It enables us to adapt and “learn” to overcome obstacles, to take action, to develop responses.

Now I’ll admit, I’m guilty of using one of the negative “worry relievers” myself. That, my friends, is the magical black liquid known as coffee. I tend to prefer the “diesel fuel” form of the substance. I drink it straight and I probably average about a pot a day. Trust me, I’m trying to cut back. We all have our methods of coping with our worries. Mine just happens to be part of an addiction that I picked up in college.

In the world of “paleo” eating habits, which I am a big fan of, coffee seems to be shunned by all the hardcore caveman dieters, but I won’t let that “worry” me. Ha, that rolled nicely. Another way to overcome worries may be to share them. Being social about what’s on your mind could help you find a solution, hopefully a long term one, especially if someone else has been through what you are worrying about.

If you are worried, don’t let it eat you up. Redirect the energy or take action on it. Otherwise you will be on the fast track to a life of never-ending struggle and pain. Some people like that type of thing in some sort of twisted masochistic sort of way. I’ll pass. All for now. Hakunamatata!

About The Author: When Jon Chacon is not getting stronger, he likes to spend the majority of his time pursuing a (relatively) stress free life.

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