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The Hidden Weight of Worry

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On the outside, it’s a wonderful day and everything seems to be going your way, so you can’t quite figure out why you feel so rotten. Perhaps it’s because you didn’t get enough sleep, or you skipped breakfast—or it consisted of a sugary treat that now feels like a lump in your stomach. Those things might play a part in your mysterious irritability, but perhaps they’re merely symptoms of an underlying worry.

Specializes in Leadership | Psychiatric Nursing | Education. Has 23 years experience.

The Hidden Weight of Worry

Don't worry, be happy. This carefree song emphasized not letting worries steal our happiness. If only it were so easy to completely forget our worries and smile. Sometimes we might think we've done just that. It might seem that there is no reason not to smile yet we're burdened by the weight of worry.

We may not even realize the worry is there until the event we've been focusing on with apprehension comes to fruition. Often it passes us by without the impending doom we assumed would accompany it. Only then do we feel some of the tension lift-until the next needless worry begins to gnaw at our thoughts.

Worrying About Worry

It's almost impossible to eliminate all worry, and we really wouldn't want to. Adaptive worry, is what drives our survival instinct. It can help us focus, work harder and provide motivation to push ourselves further than we would otherwise.

It's maladaptive worry that steals our sleep and has us fretting about the uncertainty of the future. This isn't the same as suffering from anxiety, depression or burnout. These are the everyday worries that are out of our control, or that we've allowed our imagination to inflate, until it consumes our thoughts as we fear all the what ifs?

  • What if I can't find a parking space?
  • What if I look like a fool giving that presentation?
  • What if I fail that test?
  • What if I sleep in and I'm late?
  • What if they don't like me?

Worrying about things you have no control over can create a vicious cycle. When you lay awake worrying about the next day you might end up sleeping in, or worry might keep you from concentrating on your studies and then you aren't prepared for the test.

Slow the Cycle

Sometimes dealing with the uncertainty is worse than dealing with the issue itself. Generally, most worries never come to fruition, or often these events don't have the catastrophic effects worth the energy you've invested.

It can be hard to see what you can and can't control if you're feeling overwhelmed. Worry can be bad for your health and add to your stress by stealing your sleep, or prompting you to indulge in poor health habits to try to distract your thoughts from worry.

Taking the time to reflect can help determine which worries are better off eliminated.

  • Has worrying about this ever changed the outcome?
  • Can I learn something from this experience for the next time?
  • Is it worth the worry? What's the worst thing that can happen?
  • Do I really care about this that much?

Coping with Worry

We may not be able to stop worrying, but identifying our worries might help us learn to accept them and reduce some of their heavy control over our thoughts. You might still worry, but when you realize what's causing the underlying distress you can determine if it's worth the trouble.

It might take someone else pointing it out to realize it's not kryptonite but just a harmless old rock weighing us down with worry. While planning an upcoming vacation, I worried about all the things I needed to do. My husband, an expert at evading little worries said, "You haven't even gone on vacation yet and you're worrying about when you're getting groceries when you come home?" His incredulous look and simple statement made me realize that this was a ridiculous worry. We weren't going to starve if I didn't make it to the store the day after we returned.

There are many ways to work on reducing your worry, but none will be effective unless you individualize it based on what works best for you. A few ways to halt, or reduce, worry include:

  • Take the worry out of your thoughts - write about it, or talk to a friend or therapist
  • Relax- practice yoga or mindful meditation, exercise, or watch a funny movie, or listen to music
  • Forget about it - trust yourself to handle the situation, or snap a rubber band on your wrist when you find yourself worrying, or channel Scarlett O'Hara and schedule worry by deciding to think about that tomorrow
  • Just do it- address the source of worry and tackle that task

Lighten your Load

Worry can be a good thing, if we use it to keep us safe, increase our productivity and motivate us. It's when we worry about the little things that we have no control over, or that we might later realize were kind of silly to worry about in the first place that can cause us undue stress. Unburdening ourselves from these little worries that weigh on our conscious can help us enjoy each day more and worry less about tomorrow.

Do You Have Tips on Worrying Less?

Maureen Bonatch MSN, RN draws from years of experience in nursing administration, leadership and psychiatric nursing to write healthcare content. Her experience as a fiction author helps her to craft engaging and creative content. Learn more about her freelance writing at CharmedType.com and her fiction books at MaureenBonatch.com

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7 Comment(s)

Abbys, RN

Has 29 years experience.

Write it down, like a list of things to do later. Then move on.

subee, MSN, CRNA

Specializes in CRNA, Finally retired. Has 49 years experience.

Learning self-care doesn't come automatically. Big hands up for therapy! It should be a perk for all nurses or anyone else in the helping professions.

I live in constant worry. Im 51, finishing my prereqs to start RN program in January.

School seems to be my only positive, and I give it 110 percent.

At home, Im a mom who has built my entire life around my two sons. My youngest son is 24 and was diagnosed with juvenile Huntington's disease 7 years ago, and things are declining, I worry every day about him, and cry on my own knowing I am losing him. I really try to redirect my worry, and focus on school. I worry that my other son who is 27 may also have HD. I worry how I will handle if I lose both my sons to HD.

No, worrying doesnt change anything, but I still do it.

Every day I ask God to guide me to be the person he wants me to be, and I ask him to take away all my worry, but I still worry.

jag nurse, RN

Has 17 years experience.

Mrs Ganey,

I am so sorry. I can't take your worry, but you have my sincere prayers.

jag nurse, RN

Has 17 years experience.

I am so sorry. I can't take your worry, but you have my sincere prayers.

Neats, BSN

Specializes in Case Manager/Administrator. Has 12 years experience.

I live in constant worry. Im 51, finishing my prereqs to start RN program in January.

School seems to be my only positive, and I give it 110 percent.

At home, Im a mom who has built my entire life around my two sons. My youngest son is 24 and was diagnosed with juvenile Huntington's disease 7 years ago, and things are declining, I worry every day about him, and cry on my own knowing I am losing him. I really try to redirect my worry, and focus on school. I worry that my other son who is 27 may also have HD. I worry how I will handle if I lose both my sons to HD.

No, worrying doesnt change anything, but I still do it.

Every day I ask God to guide me to be the person he wants me to be, and I ask him to take away all my worry, but I still worry.

Prayers go out to you and your family. Remember who is in control. Hand it all over to Him.

Maureen Bonatch MSN, BSN, MSN, RN

Specializes in Leadership | Psychiatric Nursing | Education. Has 23 years experience.

My heart goes out to you. It's so hard not to worry, but I'm hopeful that an awareness of the worry and the ability to focus on other tasks will give you strength with these challenges. Good luck with your RN program.