Most of us know what worry feels like. But when it comes to how worry works – and what we can do to overcome it – the answers are less clear.
Worry is something that’s familiar to lots of women, and research reveals just how much more of an issue it is for us than men: A Cambridge University study in 2016 showed that women are twice as likely to experience anxiety than men.
Angela Ceberano runs her own successful PR company, and has achieved professional goals others told her were impossible. But behind the scenes, worry has been a big part of her life. In her May 2015 TedX talk she confessed:
“If I had nothing to worry about, I’d worry about that.”
If you don’t know how to deal with your worry it can start to have a real impact on your life. But when you understand how worry works, you can take steps to reduce it and even turn it into a positive force for change. Here’s how.
How worry works
The way each of us experiences worry is very different. For some women it’s lying awake at night wondering what’s going to bite you in the inbox in the morning. Or it might look like running over upcoming conversations, worrying how another person will react, or feeling stressed about how a particular situation will turn out.
It’s normal to be worried about danger, times when we’re trying something new, or situations which have an element of risk. You might find yourself feeling nervous before a big presentation at work, or worrying about how your child will settle into a new school. These kinds of worries serve to prepare us in times when we might be called upon to respond to a perceived threat.
From an evolutionary standpoint, worrying about being eaten by a cave lion or whether we had enough food saved for a long winter would have been a really helpful trait, if it meant we took appropriate action.
When worry gets out of hand
Worry starts to become more of a problem when it loses its connection to actions we can take to prevent it, and starts to become a regular or even constant presence in our lives.
When worry begins to incorporate a physical element, it can become anxiety, a more significant issue that can be behind a number of physical symptoms, from insomnia to fatigue and difficulty concentrating.
If you feel like anxiety’s starting to be a more serious presence in your life, don’t wait to get appropriate help. Talk to your GP or an occupational health professional if your worries are focused on work, and they’ll be able to support you with the help you need.
Listen to your worries
Trying to ignore worry can trigger behaviours we know aren’t healthy. That mid-afternoon urge for the sweet treat you promised yourself you’d give up, or the glass of wine after work that turns into two… or three.
So ignoring worry doesn’t help. It’s there because something in your life is demanding your attention.
What might your worries be telling you?
The first step is to become aware of what’s going on. If worry’s starting to rear its head, try and identify what’s causing it. Here are three examples of common reasons you might be feeling worried:
- Are you doing something brave, and stretching your comfort zone? Is the worry a form of excitement that will pass when you’ve completed whatever it is that’s causing worry?
- Is there a specific scenario you’re worried about – like missing a travel connection or messing up a vital task?
- Is the worry becoming something that’s a part of your life more generally – so that whatever’s going on, you’ve always got a feeling of worry?
Next, think about what action you can take.
If you’re taking a courageous step, can you reframe your worry as excitement? Remind yourself of all the lessons you’re learning and how this experience will help you grow and reach your goals?
If your worries are centred around a specific event or task, perhaps it’s time to think about what extra support you can offer yourself. Coming up with a “Plan B” can help put your mind at rest, or perhaps you’re worry is prompting you to ask for a bit of extra support. Perhaps a colleague could help you rehearse a presentation, or your partner could drop you off at the station in time to make an earlier train.
If worry’s become more of a constant presence in your life, it might be time to look holistically at how you can get back to a place of thriving. Exercise, meditation, mindfulness and therapies like massage can all help you unwind and find healthy ways to process stress and tension.
For Angela Ceberano, learning to understand her worries transformed her approach to ife. She started to use her worries as a way to pinpoint things she’d like to do, building her resilience as she did so. The result? In her words,
“The way that I view my anxiety has changed. I now view my fears, my worries, and my anxiety as a good thing and I use it to my advantage.”
Need a helping hand?
Life’s Little Toolkit is our handy collection of the best-loved resources as chosen by our community – and how to stop worrying is one of them. If you’re not sure if you’re worrying too much, or know you could do with a way to break free of the worry cycle, you’ll find everything you need to move forward from a handy quiz to a downloadable audio to help you get back on top of things.
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