By Jeremy Godwin
Welcome to Let’s Talk About Mental Health, the weekly podcast full of simple ideas for better mental health by Jeremy Godwin. Each episode focuses on practical and simple ideas that you can use to improve and maintain your mental health and wellbeing every day, based on quality research.
This is Episode 95 and this week I’m talking about worry.
In this episode I’ll cover what worry is, why dealing with worry thoughtfully matters, and how to manage worry for better mental health. So, let’s talk about mental health!
Listen to the podcast episode now in the Spotify player below (or using your preferred podcast service; see below for links) or continue reading for the full transcript.
Watch Episode 33 of Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV — in this latest episode I’m talking about five foundations of better mental health.
Watch it below or visit the channel on YouTube:
This podcast episode was originally released on 5 September, 2021.
Hello and welcome to Episode 95, and thanks so much for joining me!
This week I’m talking about worry and I’ll be discussing what worry is, why dealing with worry thoughtfully matters, and how to manage worry for better mental health.
Before I begin, two quick announcements. First, watch the latest episode of Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV on YouTube where I’m sharing my five biggest foundations of better mental health — these are the things that have a massive impact on your overall wellbeing and you can work on them little by little every day. Watch it now on YouTube or IGTV and I release new episodes every Wednesday; you’ll also find the video at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au and it’s linked in the episode description on whatever podcast service you’re currently listening to me on.
Secondly, I’m only a handful of episodes away from my 100th episode and to celebrate I’m giving away four small prize packs to four lucky people anywhere in the world. Winners will receive a classic book focused on mindset and self-development plus a handwritten note from me to say thanks for your ongoing support. All you need to do is follow both of my Instagram accounts plus my YouTube channel then send me the details via Instagram by September 24, 2021 to be in the running. For full details visit letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/giveaway (and the link is also in the episode description).
So, with all of that covered, on with this week’s episode about worry…
I’m beginning this episode by plundering the slightly-more-obscure back catalogue of one of my all-time favourite acts from the 80’s, Mel & Kim. In 1990, Kim released a solo single called Don’t Worry which was recorded as part of songs that were meant to be part of Mel & Kim’s second album, which never eventuated due to Mel’s untimely passing, and the song is actually quite good and performed pretty well in the UK & Europe (and, quick side note here, it was co-written by Kim, George DeAngelis and Craig Logan who happened to be the ex-bass player from Bros — just a little footnote of random musical trivia there). Anyway, the song mainly involved Kim imploring the listener not to worry with a refrain that went:
Don’t you cry, you’ll get by, you’ll be back
On your feet, in no time, you’ll be fine, don’t worry‘Don’t Worry’ by Kim Appleby
And I’m starting today’s episode with that song quote because (a) I felt the need to share my eternal love for Mel & Kim, and (b) it’s a bit of a battle-cry for what you can expect today: even when you get knocked on your butt by life, you will be back on your feet in no time (and I’m going to share a whole bunch of tips to help you bounce back from worry as quickly as possible).
So let’s begin with some definitions, and let’s talk about…
What is worry?
And ‘worry’ is about being anxious, troubled or concerned over actual or potential problems (and thanks Oxford Dictionary for that definition).
Worry very often goes hand-in-hand with mental health challenges like overthinking and anxiety, and continued worry about things in the present or in the future (or both) can cause a lot of issues for your wellbeing because it takes you away from your ability to be fully present — especially when it involves worrying about things that are out of your direct control like other people, local and global events, and whether or not the Spice Girls will ever reunite as a five-piece.
Let’s talk a little about the link between worry and anxiety, and I’d like to share a quote from an article by This Way Up which is a fantastic Australian public mental health resource. The quote is:
“Worry is a normal part of life, and can even be helpful in some instances. We often worry about the things that are important to us, like finances, work, and family, and this worry has the potential to help us make good decisions in these areas. Sometimes however, worrying can become more of a hindrance than a help. If you’ve been experiencing worries that are excessive, uncontrollable, or irrational, for an extended period of time, you may be suffering from generalised anxiety disorder, or GAD.”Source: This Way Up (https://thiswayup.org.au/learning-hub/anxiety-and-worry-explained/)
And the link for that is in the transcript, which you can find for free at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/episodes.
So that then leads me to the next part of today’s episode, which is…
Why dealing with worry thoughtfully matters
And to answer that I’m going to share another quote (there’s quite a few quotes in the first part of this episode today); this one is from HelpGuide and the quote is:
“Constant worrying, negative thinking, and always expecting the worst can take a toll on your emotional and physical health. It can sap your emotional strength, leave you feeling restless and jumpy, cause insomnia, headaches, stomach problems, and muscle tension, and make it difficult to concentrate at work or school. You may take your negative feelings out on the people closest to you, self-medicate with alcohol or drugs, or try to distract yourself by zoning out in front of screens. Chronic worrying can also be a major symptom of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), a common anxiety disorder that involves tension, nervousness, and a general feeling of unease that colors your whole life.”Source: HelpGuide (https://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/how-to-stop-worrying.htm#)
And you’ll find the link for that in the transcript.
So the piece here is about being able to identify the difference between everyday worries and concerns versus the types of worries that are chronic or persistent. Let me share a quote from Headspace (Australia) that explains this in a bit more detail; the quote is:
“Occasional [worry and] anxiety over the future is a normal part of life… we worry about paying a bill, or how a first date might turn out, or if the weather might ruin a planned BBQ. But it’s when the “what ifs” are persistent and run rampant — attaching themselves to every possible outcome — that worry becomes a chronic source of anxiety, and can lead to insomnia, headaches, stomach problems, and more. At its most extreme, worry can be paralyzing, interfering with how we show up in everyday life, and preventing us from taking action…”Source: Headspace (https://www.headspace.com/articles/how-to-stop-worrying)
And, as always, that article I quoted from is linked in the transcript.
So what I wanted to point out here is that dealing with worries in a thoughtful and considered way matters for your mental health because it serves to help you to identify where worries might be heading into the anxiety space and then choosing to tackle them head-on, instead of letting them take over your thoughts and sending you into a spiral of worry. Because, as I’ve said in many episodes before, thoughts are not facts and the majority of the things we might worry will happen very rarely come to pass. And if they do? You’ll survive. I know it’s a total cliché at this point to say what I’m about to say, and it’s a bit like a cheesy bumper sticker or Pinterest post, but you really have survived 100% of your worst days so far. I talked about this idea last week in Episode 94, when I discussed the past, and the thing about chronic or frequent worry is that a lot of it is based on stuff that either may or may not happen (and usually won’t happen) or it’s tied to stuff that’s completely out of control, like what other people might do or say, or events on a local, national or global level. When we worry about the past, we’re wasting our energy… because the past cannot be changed, only learned from. When we worry about the future, we’re wasting our energy… because the future is unwritten and, more than that, it’s unknowable; I don’t care how good your crystal ball is, nobody can predict the future. And, finally, when we worry about today… well, what we’re doing is robbing ourselves of our joy here in the present moment (especially when it’s worry about things — and people — that we have no control over).
So how do you deal with worry in a healthy way? Well, let’s get into the how-to part of today’s episode and let’s talk about…
How to manage worry for better mental health
OK, so I’m going to begin with some more short-term things that you can do if you’re in the middle of dealing with worry (especially that kind of overpowering worry that feels a bit like quicksand) and then I’ll go through some more long-term strategies that will take work but which can, over time, help you to better manage worry.
So let’s start with my first bit of advice for dealing with it in the moment, and it is…
Pause and breathe — which is one of my go-to bits of advice for most things that involve emotional reactions because, as I’ve said in previous episodes, what happens is that when worry kicks off often our instincts take over in response to a perceived threat and our fight/flight/freeze/fawn response kicks in. Which is really helpful when you’re being chased by a mountain lion, but less so when you’re dealing with the more day-to-day challenges that most of us tend to be faced with. Your instinctive responses are often in control for the first few seconds so instead of just reacting to them, pause and gently breathe in and out for at least 10 seconds to help settle yourself (and while you’re at it, remind yourself that you are safe and that you are, hopefully, not being chased by a hungry mountain lion). That simple act of pausing and breathing for 10 seconds can be just what you need to let your instincts cool down enough so that your rational mind can take over, which allows you to then be more considered and thoughtful in your responses. Which leads to my next point…
If you’re having trouble calming your mind of worry, write it down — because the thing about that type of energy is that it needs to go somewhere, and often it’s a case of recognising that if you don’t let it out then it’s going to bounce around inside of your mind, picking up speed as it goes. By writing it down, you find a way to channel that energy and (more importantly) you get it out of your mind. Once it’s out, it’s often a lot easier to then breathe through it. Now, I will add at this point that you may also find it helpful to talk to someone as a way of releasing that energy however I want to caution you to consider how you do that in a constructive way. For a long time I was someone who used to rely on ‘venting’ when I was upset or annoyed or whatever, and the problem is that there is a very thin line between letting off steam and being negative or gossipy (or both), and those are not healthy or constructive because negativity attracts more negativity. The great thing about writing it all down is that you can say whatever you want to (or need to) without having to think about it and, even better, without having to filter yourself but also without the added issue of creating negative energy with other people. Once you’re done with it, either put it aside and review it in the future (giving it at least a few hours before you do so, if not longer) or, better yet, destroy it. Speaking of, my next point is related and it is…
If you’re feeling worried in the middle of the night, write it down — and so this requires you to keep a notebook and pen next to your bed but it’s particularly handy if you’re prone to laying awake for hours thinking about things (or overthinking about things, as the case may be). Write it down and then let yourself put it aside until the morning, when things often seem less urgent than they do in the middle of the night. Oh, and with this point and the last one you’ll notice I talked about actually writing it down (as in with a pen and paper) — sure, you can use your phone to tap out a note but there is something different about the physical act of writing that helps you to channel that energy out of your body more effectively (and besides, if you use your phone then it’s easy to get distracted by a million other things that you probably don’t need to get distracted by — especially at 2am!). So, moving on, my next point is…
Ask yourself “are these thoughts actually helping me?” — and I can almost guarantee you that in nearly every case the answer to that question is “No!”… and here’s why. Worry is not rational because it is problem-focused rather than solution-focused — which is actually the next point I want to cover and it is…
Focus on solutions rather than problems — everybody has problems, but fixating on them doesn’t make them magically disappear; all that does is focus you on the problem, and since what you focus on is what you focus on (something I discussed back in Episode 86 about — you guessed it — focus), what that means is that in a strange paradox what happens when you focus on problems is that you tend to find even more problems, and before you know it you’re overwhelmed by so many problems that you might be tempted to open a problem store to offload some of your excess stock. The way to challenge that is to turn your focus to solutions instead, because when you focus on solutions you tend to find more solutions to focus on (which makes for a much more positive experience than the alternative!). Do this by asking yourself questions like, “what are my options?” or “what could I do to address X?” and go from there. Next…
Identify what is within your control versus what is not — and this is about being able to label things to help you look at the situation in a rational way to ground yourself and take away the power that the worried thoughts might have over you (because thoughts are not facts). You can only control what you choose to do and say, along with what you choose to do with your feelings… everything else is completely out of your direct control, including the words and actions of other people. Yes you can influence other people and events, but you cannot control them. Reminding yourself of that fundamental truth and looking at the situation objectively so that you can label specific aspects of whatever you’re worrying about as either within your control or outside of your control helps to turn your attention to solution mode. For example, if you’re worried about bills that need to be paid and you don’t have the funds available then all that is within your control is what you do; for example, you can either make cost savings elsewhere in your budget to pay for it or you can contact whoever the bill is from and negotiate a payment arrangement. That gives you a specific action to focus on which serves to address the source of the worry by turning your attention to what is within your direct control, which I just discussed in the latest episode of Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV on YouTube (and you’ll also find that linked in the episode description plus it’s on my website) plus I also covered control back in Episode 48. So, my next point is…
Choose not to play the “what if?” game — because “what if?” can be two of the most dangerous words for anyone struggling with worry and anxiety. Why? Because it takes us down a rabbit hole of alternative pasts that can never exist or possible futures that very likely will never exist. All you have for certain is this moment, now, and what you choose to do in this moment is what creates your future. Instead of wondering “what if?” about the past or the future, focus on the here and now and identify ways to make healthy choices here in the present. Will that guarantee you a perfect and rosy future? No, because shit happens and there are a million and one variables in any given situation, most of which are out of your direct control (I know, I sound like a broken record here). But what it does do is that it stops you from tormenting yourself over the past or the future (or both) because it grounds you in focusing on the present moment. Which leads to my next point…
Return your attention to the present moment — I’m going to share something deeply personal here: the other week I was having a really tough time due to lockdown being extended, some family stuff and at the same time losing a few followers thanks to the episode I did about death back in Episode 92 (turned out some people took me quite literally when I discussed triggers in Episode 91!). Anyway, it was a tough week and everything seemed to be happening all at once… which led to my anxiety spiralling out of control and overwhelming me with worry about the future (which, of course, was not particularly productive or helpful). So at one point I actually closed my eyes and said, out loud, “It is whatever-date-it-was, I am at my home address, and I am safe” — and I said that several times to myself while I was gently breathing, and it helped to return me to the present moment (and being present was the topic of Episode 83, by the way). Grounding yourself in the present helps to release a lot of your worries (or at least it helps you to see that there is only so much you can do at the moment, and that worry is not particularly constructive or helpful). Another way to do that is with my next point, which is…
Park it — and what I mean by this is to physically put your worries aside by writing them down with a commitment to coming back to it later (preferably at least 24 hours later). It’s similar to what I said earlier in terms of writing it down, but this is more for those things where you know that you have to come back to it at some point (because a decision needs to be made or an action taken) so it gives you the benefit of a little breathing space before you return your focus to it, which can often help you to see it much more objectively. Another way to do that is with my next point, which is…
Talk about it — and that means speaking with someone who can be a sounding board for you (preferably someone who can be as objective as possible). Look, close relatives (especially your parents or guardians) are very unlikely to be able to check their emotions at the door when you need to talk about your concerns and that might not be the best thing because you ideally need to discuss your worries with someone who can keep a level head. If you can, work with a professional or if not then speak with a trusted colleague or mentor at work, or a good friend who is able to remain impartial. Again, bear in mind what I said earlier about not just venting (because that often results in dumping your problems on others, either intentionally or unintentionally) and what you want is solutions rather than pity. And so then my last bit of in-the-moment advice (before I get into the long term preventative stuff) is…
Take a break — when you’re worried, continuing to focus on the worry is not productive and in fact you may even end up more worried, and then you might be worried about being worried, at which point you just may break the matrix. Go for a walk, grab a tea or coffee, watch something funny or inspiring… anything to give yourself a break for a little while so that you can recharge yourself and then refocus on overcoming your challenges a little bit later.
OK, so now let’s talk about the more long-term stuff that I encourage you to be doing every day to proactively manage your wellbeing and reduce worry, starting with…
Daily mindset practices — which is, of course, one of those bits of advice I give almost every episode because it has the biggest impact on your positivity and overall wellbeing. Mindfulness (which I talked about in Episode 42) is a simple way of returning your attention to the present more fully and a great tool to use when you’re feeling worried, and starting your day with gratitude practice helps you to focus on the positives in your life (and I covered gratitude in Episode 46). You may also find journalling to be particularly useful, especially as a way of reflecting at the end of your day (and I discussed reflection all the way back in Episode 12 plus I’m planning to do a video on journalling and mental health in the next month or two — so make sure you subscribe to my YouTube channel!). Whatever you choose to do, come up with a routine that works for you and do it every day. Which goes hand-in-hand with my next point, which is…
Daily self care — and that doesn’t mean taking a three-hour bubble bath every day (but hey, you do you!); what I mean is taking time to look after yourself and proactively recharging your mind, body and spirit every day in order to deal with stress and worries (and I talked about stress back in Episode 8). Self care is a topic I’ve covered before (in Episode 6) and it’s about things like having a consistently healthy and mindful diet, getting enough exercise, getting plenty of rest and also monitoring your mindset and actively working to cultivate positivity (which I talked about in Episode 90) as well as optimism (which I covered in Episode 47). That leads to my next point…
Learn to accept uncertainty — because it’s a fact of life, and worrying about it will only make things more challenging for yourself while not actually making one single bit of difference to the uncertainty thing. None of us know what tomorrow will bring and that requires us to work on acceptance (which I covered in Episode 36) and also it requires us to make our peace with uncertainty (which I discussed in Episode 25). And that then leads me to my final tip before I begin to wrap up today’s episode, which is…
Work with a professional — yes, yes, yes, I know this is my go-to piece of advice to end most of these episodes. Do you know why? Because sometimes we need help. I mean, I do this stuff for a living and work with clients one-on-one and even I see a therapist once a week because it’s a fantastic way to work through challenges and issues with someone who is both impartial and supportive (plus there’s something rewarding about having an entire hour every week that is all about my favourite subject — me!). There are lots of different options like working one-on-one with a therapist or counsellor, or you might find group therapy more to your liking, but whatever you choose to do find a constructive outlet to process through your worries, especially if you’re prone to excessive worry.
Summary and Close-Out
Because when it comes to worry and mental health, what it all boils down to is this: The majority of things we worry about are probably never going to happen, and even if they do (in some form or another) worrying about them isn’t going to change that fact and all it is doing is robbing you of your sense of calm and your peace of mind. Rather than depleting all of your energy by worrying about things that may or may not ever happen, choose to focus your attention on solutions and on what is within your direct control; in other words, what you do and say.
The choice is yours, as it is with all things related to your wellbeing… so, what choice will YOU make today?
Each week I like to finish up by sharing a quote about the week’s topic, and I encourage you to take a few moments to really reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is by Mark Twain, and it is:
“I have spent most of my life worrying about things that have never happened.”Mark Twain
Alright… that’s nearly it for this week. Next week I’ll be talking about self respect. The way you treat yourself matters because it has a direct effect on your confidence and self belief, and the thing about respect is that if you don’t treat yourself with respect then it’s probably going to be pretty tough to get others to treat you in a respectful way! So next week I’ll be talking about what self respect is, why self respect matters, and how to improve your self respect for the sake of your mental health.
I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Sunday the 12th of September. And on Wednesday, catch the latest episode Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV on YouTube or IGTV, or head to letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au where you can also join my free mailing list for podcast transcripts and my weekly newsletter. You’ll also find the link in the episode description on whatever podcast service you’re listening to me on.
Thank you very much for joining me today — look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time.
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Let’s Talk About Mental Health.
Simple ideas for better mental health.
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