Dear Dr. Yael,
I am a worrier who worries about everything. Baruch Hashem I have a good marriage and healthy, good children. However, my mother is a constant worrier and I see myself acting as she does. My husband keeps telling me that worrying gets me nowhere and that whatever is bashert will happen. I know he is right, and I do not want to turn out like my mother, with respect to this worrying as worrying only aggravates me and others. Please help me.
The word da’aga which is worry in Hebrew is missing the bet for bitachon (belief in G-d). It has the first few letters in the Hebrew alphabet but is missing the bet. I agree with you that worrying is not helpful. Worrying won’t change the outcome, but it will affect your mood tremendously in a negative manner. Worry is not worth what it can cost. It affects our sleep, and can cause tension, fatigue, irritability, problems concentrating and unhappiness. In fact, most of what we worry about never happens. Since this is true, some people feel that by worrying they are actually preventing the thing they worry about from happening, but we know that this is not the case.
In order to reduce tension and worry, you can try to calm your nervous system by using muscle relaxation, exercise, and meditation. Muscle relaxation is when you tense each muscle group and hold for five seconds. Then, you exhale as you let your muscles fully relax for ten to twenty seconds before you move on to the next muscle group. Exercise is a great way to reduce anxiety. Taking a walk with a friend, doing an enjoyable exercise class, swimming, running, or really any exercise can be very helpful in decreasing anxiety and improving mood.
We also have some degree of choice in letting go of our worries. Being aware of the process will give you more choices. We all have problems with uncertainty. We don’t know if we will do well in life, in our marriages, in our jobs, socially, or with our health. If we embrace uncertainty, we will spend less time trying to eliminate it. This goes back to having bitachon and realizing life is full of uncertainty. We must learn to live in the present and be mindful of our brachos in our life. Focusing on present activities like walking, talking to a friend, spending time with family, cooking, etc., will help you live in the present. It will also help you tremendously to replace anxious thoughts with calming ones. If you repeat the calm, realistic thoughts to yourself over and over, the anxiety will begin to lessen as your brain will send signals to your body that everything is actually ok.
It can also be helpful to work on your bitachon (belief). If you can tell yourself that you have no control and that you will be ok with whatever happens, it may help lessen your worry. Reading books like Living Emunah may help with this as well. The fact that your mother worries so much makes you more inclined to worrying. We tend to follow in our parents’ footsteps even if we don’t feel it is a healthy choice. Being raised by a mother who worries affects you subconsciously. Thus, consciously telling yourself it’s ok and there’s nothing to worry about will help you stop worrying so much. It sounds simple, but when in that anxiety-ridden situation, it takes a lot of strength to replace anxious thoughts with rational thoughts. If you push yourself to do this, it will get easier to do so with time, and the hope is that this rational thinking will start to come more naturally to you instead of the anxious thinking being natural.
Facing your fears can also help you worry less. While you can’t eliminate all worries, you can choose to direct your attention to the positive things in your life. If you feel that you are still struggling with anxiety, please reach out to a professional therapist who can teach you various cognitive behavioral techniques that will help you reduce your anxiety. Hatzlacha!