This post in part of an ongoing series called Connection Point. Featuring content written by the professors and licensed counseling professionals in our graduate counseling program, these posts are designed to inform and encourage our readers as they strive for total health—mind, body and soul.
Worry and stress have become an aspect of everyday life for most people. In its national survey, the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) found that 3.1 percent of the U.S. population suffers with some type of generalized anxiety. Two of the main symptoms of anxiety are increasing amounts of fear and worry. In addition, individuals with anxiety can have issues at work, at home, and with relationships.
Many individuals struggle with worry related to everyday issues as well as major life circumstances. The ability to manage worry and fear can benefit individuals’ well-being, peacefulness, and happiness. I try to help clients work through the anxiety and lead them to spending more time in a place of peace and tranquility even when life circumstances are not good.
When I visited India, my hosts took me into the slums to work with children. I thought, What do I have to offer these individuals? Their lives probably will not change much. I was not being pessimistic—but realistic, I thought. I was challenged by the possibility that I could help them find peace in their circumstances. American society says persons need to change their circumstances or leave those conditions in order to get better. What if, instead, we found peace where we are?
In working with clients with worries, I have reached three conclusions. First, any worry that lasts longer than an hour is not productive for most individuals. I do not know any science about the advantages from limiting worry to less than an hour, but I have noticed that an hour of preoccupied thoughts can make people imagine scenarios that do not exist.
Second, having social support can provide stability during times of worry. When individuals isolate themselves, they tend to “sit” in their worry more; they become preoccupied with their thoughts. When this situation occurs, individuals tend to create more worry for themselves; essentially, they experience a “snowball effect” of worries. On the other hand, if those persons could find people who are supportive, they might be able to process those fears and worries safely. Social support allows time with other people that can result in emotional and spiritual support as well.
Third, engaging one’s spiritual life can help reduce anxiety. As part of this process, my clients who tend to believe that nothing good will work out for them repeat statements or prayers until they reach the point at which those statements or prayers make sense or have become beliefs.
Last, focusing on those parts of life that bring contentment strengthens a person’s mind. The recognition that all of one’s life is not negative empowers one to address creatively those parts that need to be changed in order to relieve worries.
When worry grips you, try these steps to manage your worry:
- Initiate the one-hour rule.
- Find social support.
- Engage your spiritual life.
- Find contentment with life as it is before trying to change it.
Susan Lahey, Ph.D., LMFT, teaches full-time at Trevecca Nazarene University in the graduate counseling program and coordinates the doctoral program. In her practice as a marital and family therapist in Franklin, Tenn., she works with couples in crisis, individuals with anxiety-related issues, and clients with life-adjustment issues.
This article was originally posted in Nashville Christian Family magazine.