I have a confession, I worry a lot about writing sh*tty articles that you guys and gals won’t like. I’ll worry about it so much that it will keep me up at night, give me headaches, and keep me from pursuing other activities I am really interested in. I’ll spend countless hours researching, analyzing, and re-reading posts hoping that you can relate to, find value in, and are entertained by, and guess what? They’re never perfect, I’m a grammatical and punctuation mess, and I know not every one of you will like what has been written.
Luckily for me right now this is one of the few things I really worry about. I know some of you have your own worries and I’m grateful for the trust you’ve placed in me by exchanging emails and sharing some of your stories. It’s pretty clear that the worry warts won’t be going away anytime soon so how can you and I use those worries as a source of fuel to carry us on to bigger and better things?
In the words of the lyrical genius himself, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, “Relax get to it, when you want to get to it.”
You, me, and everything under the sun
Alexander Pope said, “To err is to be human; to forgive, divine.” Well, ol’Al probably could have said to worry is to be human. We worry about EVERYTHING.
- the future
- the past
- who we are and what were doing
- our kids
- our friends
- the laundry
- if we left the stove on
This list goes on and on. However, all of these worries fall under a few umbrellas that if you can become aware of and respect will transform worrying from a burden to a strength.
- Fear of the unknown
- Fear of losing what we already have
- Fear of having to deal with the consequences of making a mistake.
- Fear of not being able to hide things and being found out.
We worry most about what we don’t know or don’t understand and in a world that is inherently unpredictable this makes not worrying a nearly impossible task. But that’s just fine and dandy, I actually think worrying is a good thing. Worrying and it’s right hand man anxiety are important as they help you with a few things.
- Anticipate danger
And most importantly they help you to see when you are not being your authentic self. Worry and anxiety are ways your mind lets you know that you’re not being true to your virtues or true feelings. Worry and anxiety are emotions and just like any other emotion they are indications of the level of satisfaction that your mind has with your actions. In essence you create your own worry by not taking action or by taking action that is not aligned with what is most important to you.
Your ol’noodle upstairs wants you to be the best version of yourself and it’s constantly sending you reminders by using emotions as signals to let you know when you are or are not doing the right things. So lets start paying attention, yeah?
Why do you worry
Sort of a loaded question I know. However, the one cool thing is that we all worry about the same exact stuff the only difference is that the timing of when we worry about it may change. For example, right now I don’t worry about my career, I’m living my purpose and am totally excited about it but I use to worry about it in the past. However, I do worry a little bit about my finances now as I’m (cough) (cough) getting older (cough) and thinking about high-fiving someone (that’s what I like to call getting married; I still have some commitment issues to work out). I use to never worry about that stuff but times change, we evolve, we get interested in different things, and what’s important to us changes – this is why getting comfortable with change is so vitally important.
So why exactly does it feel like we’re always worrying about something or another?
- It’s a habit: You’ve been worrying since you popped out of the womb. Don’t think for a second as a baby you weren’t worrying about how you were going to eat. Worrying is ingrained in you, you’ve been doing it before you could speak.
- To keep you busy: Worrying is a way to keep the mind busy while you wait for the future. The mind is trained to always be doing something, it has the damnedest time trying to relax; this is one reason meditation is hard for so many.
- Because you’re doing nothing: Remember, worry, anxiety, and all other emotions are ways our brain sends us signals to let us know something needs to change. If you do nothing about it the worry lingers. The brain is trying to motivate you to DO SOMETHING, anything! Just take action.
“Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream.” -John Lennon
So now what can you do about all this worrying? Now I know before I said to just take action, anything, just do something but I fibbed a little bit there. I don’t want you to just do anything, I want you to do the right thing. You may do some or all of the following as solutions to your worries when they pop up.
These are common solutions and quick fixes that many of us offer our brains as possible ways to fix our worries. The problem is most of these are temporary solutions that end up offering us more problems or more worries down the road. So what can you actually do that will relieve some worry now and down the line?
Stop the blame game: It’s very common to just start blaming anyone, anything, or our circumstances when you start to worry about something. If you’re worrying about your weight/health you might start blaming all the family outings this past month that did not have enough healthy options for you, if you’re worrying about your finances you may blame your job for not paying you what you think you’re worth, if you’re worrying about your relationship you may blame the lack of time you have to spend together.
Instead take responsibility for the actions and decisions you’ve made that have led you here. Most of our worries do not occur over night, they are an accumulation of things that have built up based on the way we have conducted our lives up until this point.
Stop searching for worry: You might seek out things to worry about as it gives you something to do. Lets face it, we’re an impatient lot that likes to stay busy and entertained. I don’t want to say create distractions but in a sense keep your mind occupied by trying new things, challenging yourself, engaging in learning through books and courses, and by continuing to foster and grow meaningful relationships with others through conversation and connection.
Acknowledge your worries: Yeah, I know, we sort of just created distractions for our worries but in all honesty you’ll never completely remove worries from your life. Create a worry journal and refer back to it often. Write down everything it is that you are worrying about, more often than not you’ll find that most of those things never come to fruition.
But the most important thing any of us can do is to learn how to relax:
Let me ask you a question, what does it feel like to be relaxed? Total and complete relaxation, no tension in your muscles, head, no rapid heart beat or breathing, no stomach distress, nothing on your mind. It’s hard to relax if you don’t know what it feels like, so let’s get clear; what would being completely relaxed feel like for you?
After you’ve defined it, how can you do it? How can you take advantage of that time period so that you get the most out of it?
1. Use it:Performance psychologist Jim Loehr tells us that every 90-120 minutes our brains like to take a break…to relax. The left side or the logical side of your noggin likes to rest. It’s at this time that the right side of your brain or the creative side likes to dominate. This usually lasts for about 15-20 minutes, the perfect opportunity to get your creation on. If you have to set an alarm on your phone to go off after 90 minutes of continuous work, at this time take that 15-20 minutes to get a brisk walk in, dabble in some art, and just let your creative juices flow.
2. Breath: Ever just taken the time to breath? It’s one of the most important aspects of all human condition and it’s probably the most taken for granted. Proper breathing alone can help improve heart health, oxygen delivery, stress relief, carbon dioxide elimination, acid/base balance, immune system, the circulatory system, the nervous system (that fight or flight response), the digestive system, I seriously could keep going. Try these techniques courtesy of Dr. Weil the next time you need to relax.
- Bellows breath: Inhale and exhale rapidly through your nose, keeping your mouth closed but relaxed. Your breathes in and out should be equal in duration, but as short as possible. This is a noisy breathing exercise. Try for three in-and-out breath cycles per second. This produces a quick movement of the diaphragm, suggesting a bellows. Breathe normally after each cycle. Do not do for more than 15 seconds on your first try. Each time you practice the Stimulating Breath, you can increase your time by five seconds or so, until you reach a full minute.
- 4-7-8 Breathing: Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four, next hold your breath for a count of seven. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight. This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
3. Listen to the doctor: Specifically Dr. Edmund Jacobson, the author of Progressive Relaxation. Through his research Dr. Jacobson found that it was not a natural response for one to relax when presented with some sort of internal or external stimulus, this can be seen in his knee-jerk study.
“…The knee-jerk response had become the yardstick of the organic and functional condition of the nervous system. It decreased during quietude and deep sleep, and Jacobson observed that it was usually increased during clinical examinations, particularly when the patient was told to relax. He utilized seven subjects who had received extensive training in relaxation, first by measuring their responses while distracted, and again after allowing time to achieve deep relaxation. They observed that after the subjects relaxed, the knee-jerk was diminished; in those who appeared most deeply relaxed, it was totally absent. He concluded that an individual trained in voluntary relaxation was able to achieve a neuromuscular tonus while awake that is lower than that of light sleep, and that this tonus was representative not merely of the muscles but of the nervous system as a whole. (Interestingly, Almost every medical student has witnessed this experiment in his course in physical diagnosis, but in reverse: in case of a dubious patellar response, the patient curls the fingers of the two hands together and pulls outward. An increased reflex response in the legs results from a static tension in the arms)…”
The goal of Progressive Relaxation is to help you recognize some of the signs of stress, specifically tension throughout the body, and to teach you how to relieve that tension. You can practice this technique at home by doing the following:
- Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes.
- Pay attention to your breath, the rate at which you are breathing, and the depth of your abdominal muscles as you inhale and exhale.
- Pick a particular body part, face, arm, leg, but just pick one at a time and create tension in that area. Hold it for 10-20 seconds and repeat 2-3 more times.
- After each contraction slowly release the tension and pay attention to what it feels like as it diminishes.
- Inhale through the nose as you create tension and exhale through the mouth as you slowly release tension
You’ll notice that this gets easier and easier to control as you practice. The idea is to practice this with various parts of the body and to fully enjoy the process of tension releasing.
These are just some of the many practices you can use to help relax, there are so many different techniques ranging from meditation to applied and autogenic relaxation techniques. The important thing is to spend time practicing it, relaxing is tough, it’s not something our bodies naturally want to do but the time spent trying to master it is well worth the effort. Not only will you be able to lower blood pressure, heart rate, reduce the risk of heart attacks, reduce anxiety, improve digestive function, improve sleep, and boost memory and cognitive function but you’ll also be able to cope with some of those self-destructive behaviors like excessive drinking, drug use, or emotional eating.
Do you take time out to relax? What are some techniques you use?
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