Mindful Worry 2
So what do we do about the worry and near ceaseless anxiety provoking ruminations that plague us? We are exhorted to believe in the phrase”Don’t worry, be happy”. Yet we are offered no instructions on how to accomplish that. It is my belief that any attempt to control or engineer our emotional experience will actually contribute to continued unhappiness. So OK, then, what to do?
We established in the previous post that worry is largely the manifestation of fear and the anticipation of negative events and outcomes. Worry is largely non productive since it typically does not produce attempts at concrete problem solving or other adaptive coping responses. All it is, is an incessant churning of mind and guts. Chronic or toxic levels of worry can interrupt sleep, provoke biological stress responses, weaken our immune functioning, and deplete emotional resources necessary for more adaptive coping responses (see planning v worrying in the previous post).
Now if you have been following my blog or book, the answer to the problem of worry should be by now fairly apparent. We must learn to expose and mindfully face our fears. So let us tackle perhaps the most extreme source of worry….the death of a loved one. So let’s say you are a parent who is frequently worrying about the health and safety of your children, at some point, as unsavory as it is, we must embrace the possibility of their injury or death. I myself, am a parent of four. I also lost an older brother to suicide when I was 15 years old. That is arguably the worst pain for a parent to ever face. And yet, the possibility of premature death is present and real. And we must all face the possibility. Otherwise, we may be stuck with a ceaseless rumination and worry. Or, we may act out our fears by engaging in controlling endeavors to maintain the safety of our children, possibly to their detriment.
There is no way to fully brace one’s self for such a calamitous loss, nor is that the point of this exercise. However, if one finds themselves frequently worrying or controlling, than it may be advisable to embrace the anticipated pain. So using imagery, imagine in vivid detail, the injury or illness, death, memorial service and burial of a child or other lived one. I realize this sounds unfathomably morose. However, it is by fully confronting our fears that we mitigate the incessant worries that otherwise plague us.
The above is an example of a behavioral exposure techniques called implosion, therapy, https://www.mindfulexposurebook.com/wp/fear-exposure-implosion-therapy/ which can be effectively used to help us to more fully embrace, expose and extinguish cue content areas that elicit woorisome thoughts and images. Emotional surfing, https://www.mindfulexposurebook.com/wp/integrative-mindful-exposure-emotional-surfing/ a technique I developed which combines elements of Eastern mindfulness and behavioral exposure can also be utilized to help one mindfully embrace and expose their fears. In this method, one simple invites their fears or worries by mindfully contemplating a negatively anticipated occurrence, and watching the emotional, cognitive and physical sensations that are released and exposed as we ride the wave of our emotional experiences.
The critical factor is to consciously and deliberately open ourselves up to our fears. Worry is an example of incomplete exposure. This means that the cues that provoke our anxieties are not completely exposed in a manner sufficient to allow exctinction or habituation to take place. And so the anxieties stay conserved and therefore just manifest as a near constant source of irritation that never sees meaningful resolution.
Nature will always conspire to force us to face our fears. Therefore one can view worry, not as a threat, but as an invitation to grow.
When our mind is involved in worry, it typically means that we are not in a present mode of awareness but are lost in a future realm of infinite possibilities. So our task is to come back to the present. One can use their breath as a vehicle to re-anchor into one’s present reality. Place your mind into the breath. And if you are aware of worrisome thoughts, then simply label inwardly the experience of worry or fear. Keep labelling the experience for as long as its presence is noticed. Stay in the observers position without getting lost in the worry. Pay close attention to the thoughts, images and sensations of worry. But it is critical, never to engage in a control war with worry or any other mental experience. Pay attention to the manners in which you might try to distance yourself from worry through various distractions or self-numbing activities.
Finally, writing down one’s worries can be an extremely helpful way of enhancing mindful awareness and acceptance of one’s own fears. Somehow this concrete and tangible expression, often allows the fears to be turned into a more integrated emotional experience, possibly even at a neurological level.
So, forget the popular addage, “Don’t worry, be happy”. When eating eat, when shitting, shit, when worrying, worry. Just do it mindfully!