Worry is Caring, Taken Too Far.
One of the wonderful things about aging is that we’ve had plenty of opportunities to meet many people throughout our lives! We’ve grown to care about so many who we want to see do well and make good choices. And of course, we want the best for ourselves too!
Caring about others and ourselves is good — it shows our humanity. Unfortunately, worry that is taken too far can be disabling. The expression “I’m worried sick” is a reality.
Worry is Not Helpful and is Often Dangerous
Worry is not productive and causes the body stress which can lead to lack of concentration, heartburn, lack of libido, weight gain and other physical ailments.
Excessive worrying can also lead to isolation and depression. Some people withdraw from interacting with others because they just can’t expose themselves to the pain of another person as they are already overwhelmed dealing with their own fears and insecurities. Worrying also leads to a decrease in libido which causes people to withdraw from intimacy.
Some people worry as a way to express their love and concern for another. Subconsciously they think if they worry enough it might keep bad things from happening so they worry about their kids and grandkids. They worry about their own physical and financial health — They worry about their communities and the state of the world.
Consuming a Lot of News Can Trigger Worry
Easy access to news reporting 24/7 contributes to many people’s excessive worrying.
In the “ol days” we had to wait for the morning and evening newspaper or TV news. Now all day long every day we have access to local and world news. It’s addicting.
“Even if it’s just noise in the background, Logan Jones PsyD. says an alarmist news broadcast will still have a negative effect on your psyche.
“It can be damaging to constantly be reading the news because constant exposure to negative information can impact our brain,” says Annie Miller, MSW, LCSW-C, LICSW. When we experience a threat, Miller says our brain activates the fight or flight response, and the systems in our body react accordingly.
Consuming the news can activate the sympathetic nervous system, which causes your body to release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Then, when a crisis is happening, and we are experiencing this stress response more frequently, Miller says physical symptoms may arise. Some of the most common symptoms are fatigue, generalized anxiety disorder, depression, and insomnia.
This emotional toll and negative effect on the psyche was demonstrated in a study that found people who watched negative material, as compared to those who watched positive or neutral material, showed an increase in both anxious and sad moods after only 14 minutes of viewing television news bulletins and programs.
How to Reduce News-Triggered Worry
1. Go News-Free For The Day
News broadcasts are designed to stimulate your nervous system which causes cortisol etc to spike and actually creates a desire for more news… the station keeps you hooked by the promise of Breaking News (which often was news you already heard about yesterday or the hour before). Often people are unaware of how much their news intake affects their moods.
3. Add Some Music to Your Day
Here’s something that works well for me. Find a radio station or a streaming station that plays the kind of music you like. They’ll likely give you news briefs at the top of each hour. So you won’t miss out on breaking events and you’ll get to enjoy some Mowtown, Classic Rock, Soft Jazz, Easy Listening or whatever you love.
Create a playlist of your favorite upbeat songs. Ask your kids or grandkids what songs always put them in a good mood. It will expand your music library and be a good way to get to know them better, showing them care in a productive rather than worrying way. Even if their music doesn’t appeal to you, find out what they like about it and listen to them without judgment. Share with them one of your favorite go-to happy songs.
What are some of the songs or music styles that always make your heart happy? I’d love to know.
4. Get Alerts From a News App
If you’re concerned that you’ll miss important “breaking news” download a news app to your phone and set it up to display alerts when something serious happens. You may be surprised to learn how infrequently events like these happen. A couple that work well are:
- Apple News
- Google News
Tips to replace the habit of worry:
If you have concerns you don’t want to dismiss but you find yourself thinking about them all day long:
1. Fast Negative Thoughts
Consider fasting negative thoughts every Monday — every time any kind of negative thought pops into your head — tell it “If I need to I can think about it tomorrow” this helps break the worry cycle and will help you be aware of how frequently your mind turns to worry.
2. Schedule a Little Time to Worry
Schedule daily worry sessions once a day or once an hour whichever works best for you. Set a timer and allow yourself 1–2 minutes to worry about things and then when the timer is off let that be a signal to your brain that worry time is over.
NOTE: This next section makes references to God. Please interpret these references in a way that is helpful to you.
3. Pray about it!
Many Baby Boomers have a faith in God and were exposed to prayer when they were kids but never developed the habit themselves or felt like prayer was reserved for church settings. In everyday practice, prayer is simply talking to God about your cares, concerns and gratitudes. You can do it throughout the day just as you would talk with a friend. Use an app like pray.com which has prayers on many topics as well as stories to listen to at night to help you sleep instead of worry.
If talking to God about your worries seems uncomfortable but you’d still like to try it, speak this wonderful short prayer daily:
God Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.
As you pray this prayer things will become clearer to you — you can give the concerns you have about yourself and others over to God which will allow you to focus on the things you can change…..
Worried about your health? What is one thing you can do today that will help you achieve the good health you desire? Worried about your kids…is there anything you can offer that would be helpful? If not, give them over to God — tell Him your concerns and thank Him for caring for them and ask them to work in their lives in a way that they can receive.
5. Try Journaling
Keep a journal — daily list the things you are concerned about and follow that with at least 3 things you are grateful for — when you are done writing close the journal firmly so your brain registers the closure — you’ve written it down and you no longer need to think about it. If the worries pop back into your head simply say to yourself (or aloud) I’ve already written it down (given it to God). (Link to amazon)
6. Make a Practice of Serving
Worried about your community or the state of the world? Consider how you can help in practical ways: volunteer to serve at a food bank or homeless shelter, serve in a neighborhood community, run for office or serve on a candidate’s election committee, mentor a teenager, or give blood. Get involved in national or international organizations that are serving the community at large. For example, CharityWater.org, whose goal is to bring clean safe water to everyone on the planet. and RedCross.org which responds to disasters worldwide.
7. Reach Out to Others
If you have been withdrawing from others because you are overwhelmed with your own concerns step outside your comfort zone and send someone a text today. Let them know you are thinking about them and hoping that they are well. If you live nearby get together for coffee, take a walk or attend a free event together.
8. Deal with Worry Immediately!
When a concern pops into your head ask yourself: Is this a problem I can do something about? If yes, take steps to take care of it. If the answer is no you can’t do anything about it, then it’s best to acknowledge it and let it go.
9. Consider a Mantra
Consider a mantra that helps you to avoid getting emotionally hooked. People who are empathetic worriers can get triggered into worry walking through public places. For example, perhaps the people at the farmers market were doing things that you know aren’t the best choice…is it really your business to worry about it? My current favorite mantra is “Not my monkey, not my circus.” Saying that to myself helps me not get worried about issues that aren’t mine to deal with. If you have a mantra you find helpful, please let me know — I’d love to hear it!
Try one or more of these tips when you are tempted to worry. You’ll find you feel better doing something productive rather than worrying. It may be challenging to break the worry cycle but it’s better for your health and the health of your relationships if you care for people in healthy ways. Take care to minimize your news intake which can be addicting and replace news with music that nourishes your soul.
A Licensed Professional Counselor and Life Coach for over 25 years, Alice has written on a wide range of topics, touching on issues that matter most to seniors. Check out her article “Tips for Successful Marriages for Couples over 70” — a popular post on Marriage.com where Alice is an “Expert” author. Learn more about Alice Goldstein