March 19

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Worrywart: Why We Worry and How to Stop

By Jessica Allen

March 19, 2019

marriage, personal growth

Don’t worry!  What Men Think: Part 4 (finale) is coming soon!  My guy is getting caught up from our trip (he was the driver) and he’s almost finished with the last set of questions.  In the meantime, I have so much to share with you about our last week, and how transformative it was for me and our marriage and our family. 

I think I started writing 8 or 9 different pieces last week that will surely come into focus soon.  There’s something about immersing yourself in God’s creation that puts your life, your work, your worries, and your purpose into beautiful perspective.  The beach always does that for me; in fact it was precisely one year ago I launched this blog at the beach, and now I’m excited to say the mountains give me that humbling perspective too. 

We had the best time while we were away, not a worry in the world, present in the moment, and soaking in every minute of fun in the snow and rest in our cozy little cabin. 

That peace was incredible, but it didn’t last. 

Why (and how) we worry

Worry is a habit

By the grace of God, we made it home safely from that very long road trip. It felt so good to crawl into my own bed. But at about 2:30 AM that first night back home, I was wide-awake from a creepy dream, my head swirling with all the same dumb old worries I had obsessed over before we left town. What am I going to do about this, what am I going to do about that, what if this, what if that?  (Did I breathe that worry in through my sheets, or subconsciously pick it all back up when I walked in the house?!  What triggered that pattern?)

We magnify our worry

Ever notice how, in the middle of the night, problems seem enormous? We isolate them completely out of context, add some made-up stuff we invented ourselves, throw in a dash of irrational fear, and then worry over our own horror movie from the most depressing Doomsday perspective. Nobody would ever buy a ticket to that show but we keep playing it over and over in our minds. 

We worry over things we can’t control

None of those ridiculous things I worry about mattered on vacation – and I truly didn’t even think about them – because I couldn’t do anything about them there.  And if I’m being honest, none of those things I worry about really matter back at home either, because I still can’t do anything about them here.

But don’t worry – we can stop it!

Take worry to the dump

By the time I finally processed that coherent thought sitting on my couch at about 3 AM, I just threw up my hands and prayed for God to take my mind trash out to the dump. I realize He is fully capable of doing that, but not until I am willing to let the garbage go. If his kingdom is forever, as he says it is, my worries are truly no match for him.

What garbage are you holding onto? Can we take it to the dump together? Because all it does is anchor you in a pit of the past, or paralyze you in fear of an uncertain future. And neither of those serve the present miracle that we are living in right now.

Call worry what it really is: a joy-stealer

Some people get to learn new lessons all the time. I unfortunately have to keep learning the same lesson over and over. My husband says it’s because I’m so stubborn. (I stomped my foot and said no I’m not and he just laughed.) Why is it so hard to remember that life really is easier when we just let go? That there really is no worry that could add a single second to our lives?

I am skilled at dressing up the concept of worrying as “processing,” “deliberating,” “weighing the pros and cons,” “developing a battle plan,” or even “making a responsible and informed decision.” That last one is my favorite because it sounds the smartest. I can delay almost any choice or release by tricking myself into believing I am very smart in making an informed decision (when in actuality I am just stalling out in worry and indecision).

But those are all really just fancy ways to say I am worrying and obsessing over something, allowing it to steal joy and presence from my life. And whatever it’s stealing from my own life, it’s stealing from the people I love too. 

Worry steals joy from our people, too

Sometimes we can actually worry something into existence. We focus so intently on it (usually from a place of fear) that our brains actually start looking for evidence that it’s happening. So instead of focusing on creating a future rooted in gratitude and joy, we unintentionally start creating a future rooted in fear and uncertainty. Who wants to live like that? Who wants to live with someone who’s living like that?!

Most things on my worry list are either A) completely out of my control, B) not my problem to solve anyway, or C) (most common) a decision I know I need to make but haven’t summoned the guts to do it yet.  And THAT’S what steals the joy away from my people.  While I’m busy wringing my hands over an answer I already know, it’s wasting everybody’s time.  I’m married to a “think long think wrong” guy so this tendency of mine to over-obsess makes him especially crazy. 

Understand your worry style

Where I am a constant low-grade worrywart, my husband is a zero-to-100 panicker.  “THE GAS LIGHT JUST TURNED RED JESSICA, STOP LAUGHING BECAUSE IT ISN’T FUNNY WE ARE IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE.”  Now, I have boldly tested the limits of that gas light, and I know we have room to spare, which is why it’s hard not to laugh when he shoots through the roof.  This is where we even each other out, and it’s a good thing. 

Where do you fall on the worry scale?  Hakuna Matata, constant low-grade worry, big waves of anxiety and calm, or zero-to-100 panic?  What sends you into that cycle?  (Change of any kind triggers my cycle; physical safety/financial security triggers my husband’s.) The more you understand what sets off your worry, the better prepared you can be to put it into perspective, deal with what you can, and dump the rest. It’s just like any other form of self-awareness – the more you know and understand about yourself, the better equipped you can become to nip pesky habits in the bud.

Put worry to bed

I’m watching my word count and worrying (!) that this post isn’t quite right.  However, my little one is calling and I’m actually looking forward to a better, less worrisome, day of productivity and night of sleep.  A warm bath, a cup of tea, some reading, a quick stretch, and prayer are always my go-to start.  And I “processed” some of my worry garbage today, released a whole bunch of it, wrote about it with you, and reframed it into something that actually benefits me: an opportunity to trust God’s plan, ask for help, and admit it’s okay that I do not have all the answers.   

Most importantly, I can give it to God because he’s always awake, keeping watch, and working in our favor. Chances are highly likely that His plan is way better than anything we’ll cook up in worry. 

Here’s to sleeping like a baby.  (Not mine – he’s always up!  Thank God he’s sweet.)

HP,

J

Where do you fall on the worry scale – hakuna matata, constant low-grade worry, big waves of anxiety and calm, zero-to-100 panic, or somewhere in between?  What’s the hot item on your worry list?  Drop a comment, send a message, or join the conversation on our Facebook group.  And don’t forget to subscribe to our Happy Mail list!  Good-for-the-soul treats in your inbox once a week.

Jessica Allen

About the author

Jessica is a writer, musician, entrepreneur, wife, and mom. Jessica's mission is to write "real" - shining light into the dark places of the tough stuff we all experience. She and her husband Jack live in Houston, Texas and have weathered the storms of grief, infant loss, adoption, and a marriage that almost fell apart. Jessica and Jack have four children: LJ in heaven, Grace, Jackson, and Elisha.

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