Reality Check: An Anxiety Alternative

If we choose to worry, there’s plenty to worry about.

Thanks to the mixed blessing of access to information from all over the world, we can worry about things that we have absolutely no control over and that may never affect us.

Closer to home, we could worry about what might happen tomorrow. What if my worries come true?

Or, we could worry about what should have happened yesterday. What should I have done differently?

If you are blessed (or cursed) with a vivid imagination, you can fill your mind with vibrant “what ifs” and “shoulda-coulda” pictures. But we only get to live our lives between yesterday and tomorrow—in that space called today.

If you have a choice, would you rather be spending your life worrying about what’s gone or coming, or living in the day you have?

Occasionally I revisit a book by Dale Carnegie: How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. The copyright is 1944; that alone offers a helpful perspective. Humans worry. They worried then; we worry now. Worry is unlikely to disappear.

A choice theory belief is that behaviour is purposeful. There are reasons for what we do. We act to satisfy our basic needs (security, recognition, belonging, etc.) and we try to arrange our lives to match our internal pictures of what we want.

Our actions may not always look like they make sense to someone else (or even to ourselves.) But we act in an effort to satisfy something, even if we don’t recognize exactly what it is that we are trying to satisfy at the time.

Counselor J. Richard Nichols has suggested to me that anxietying (the action of being anxious) is built into humans as a mechanism for the survival of the species. A part of our brain signals us to be alert and aware of possible danger. And it gets our attention through the discomfort that goes with worry and anxiety.

So, the anxietying behaviour is ready and available to spring up as our immediate response.

Now let’s say for the moment that we could choose to turn on or turn off a behaviour. If we could choose, then worrying and anxietying wouldn’t have to be our go-to behaviours.

Would it be worthwhile to try to choose a response instead of letting an automatic worrying behaviour take over? What do we have to lose?

How might we go about choosing differently?

You already know what your personal worrying behaviours feel like. Maybe there’s a sick sensation in the pit of your stomach, or troubling thoughts that go round and round in your mind. When you detect that worry response, try something different. Choose a new response, preferably a physical action.

Like what?

Laughing, walking, singing, crying, dancing all around! (Depending on the action you choose, you might not want to do this in public.) Your options are unlimited; you could choose to write, meditate, walk, pray, exercise, call a friend, pet the cat…

The really creative part of this experiment is to think of actions that you can choose to use as your worry substitute.

Here’s the essence of the experiment: plan ahead and choose a behaviour that you are prepared and able to do. When you feel your worry behaviour start to take hold, pause. Shift from the worry behaviour to the action that you have chosen.

This will probably seem pretty weird at first. That’s ok.

When we take action to shift from instinctive fear to a chosen behaviour, we also take back our personal power. We take charge of ourselves.

Do you ever feel like worry has chosen you, rather than you having chosen it? Is it worth an experiment to choose a different response?

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