Carole started counseling with me because she was depressed. She had been ill with chronic fatigue syndrome for a long time and believed her depression was due to this. In the course of our work together, she became aware that her depression was actually coming from her negative thinking - Carole was a constant worrier. Many words out of her mouth centered around her concerns that something bad might happen. “What if I never get well?” “What if my husband gets sick?” “What if I run out of money?” “What if my kids don’t get into good colleges?” “What if someone breaks into the house?”
Her worry was not only causing her depression, but was also contributing to her illness, if not actually causing it. Her worry caused so much stress in her body that her immune system could not do its job of keeping her well. Yet even the awareness that her worry was causing her depression and possibly even her illness did not stop Carole from worrying. She was addicted to it. She was unconsciously addicted to the sense of control that worry gave her.
As I started to examine the cause of worry. Many people believe that worry will stop bad things from happening and they can control the future with worry. I hear it all the time “If I worry, I’ll be prepared.” Many people worry their whole lives and none of the bad things they worry about ever happened.
It is not easy to stop worrying when you have been practicing worrying for most of your life. In order for me to stop worrying, I needed to recognize that the belief that worry has control over outcomes is a complete illusion. I needed to see that, not only is worry a waste of time, but that it can have grave negative consequences on health and well-being. Once I understood this, I was able to notice the stomach clenching that occurred whenever I worried and stop the thought that was causing the stress.
Carole is in the process of learning this. She sees that her worry makes her feel very anxious and depressed. She sees that when she doesn’t worry, she is not nearly as down as when she allows her addiction to worry to take over. She sees that when she stays in the moment, rather than projecting into the future, she feels much better. The key for Carole in stopping worrying is in accepting that worry does not give her control.
Giving up the illusion of control that worry gives us is not easy for anyone who worries. Yet there is an interesting paradox regarding worry. I have found that when I am in the present moment, I have a much better chance of making choices that support my highest good than when I’m stuck thinking about the future. Rather than giving us control, worry prevents us from being present enough to make loving choices for ourselves and others. Worrying actually ends up giving us less control rather than more!