Mug of tea

Worry less, enjoy more

Tracey Columns

Dear Tracey,

I’ve always worried too much. I remember being a little girl and my mother would tease me about this. She’d say “the sky isn’t going to fall” but that didn’t help. Those stinging words just made me worry more about irritating her.

Mostly, I have managed to keep my tendency to worry in check. It seemed to be worst when I was raising my kids but they all turned out fine. I know my worry irritated my husband. We finally divorced after the kids were raised.

I retired a couple of years ago and my worrying has gotten completely out of hand. It’s all I seem to do. I worry about not having enough money, even though I have a generous pension and social security, and I have no debts. I worry about my cat getting sick but the vet assures me she is fit as a fiddle. I worry that my grandchildren won’t like me and I don’t even have any grand-kids yet!

I know this all sounds silly but that’s the way it is and I can’t seem to get myself on track. I just knock around this house all day. I miss my job and my work friends. I think I need to be busier but I worry about what I could do to fill up my days and then, I end up not doing anything. Honestly, I feel sort of paralyzed.

My daughter lost her patience with me recently and asked me if I was ever going to do something about my “anxiety disorder.” That hurt my feelings, like she thinks I am mentally ill or something. But honestly, even though her words hurt, I also know she is right to a certain degree, that these days, I am nearly crippled by worry.

Please help me get on a better path.

Worry Wort

Dear Reader,

Thank you for writing. I know you speak for many people who wrestle with varying degrees of worry. Sadly, this debilitating thought pattern can increase with retirement, for all of the reasons you have described; a fixed income, loss of meaningful employment; and lack of social connection.

By writing this letter, you have taken the very first step in getting on a better path. You have finally, and honestly, faced the reality of your difficult and lonely situation. Good for you!

Let’s  continue your brave approach by understanding how this thought pattern develops. What you call worry is, in fact, anxiety. Some research suggests that anxiety issues may be the result of your natural brain chemistry, something you were born with and had no control over. But anxiety can also be the result of childhood experiences and eventual life circumstances.

As a result, you developed a certain way of responding to the world around you because all any of us want, is  to feel safe and secure. Ironically, while worry is terribly unsettling, it can create a false sense of security and/or control. It goes something like this: if I worry enough, maybe the bad thing won’t happen but if it does, at least I won’t be caught off guard.

I’m simplifying things terribly here but be assured that you have the power to change this thought pattern.

There’s no shame in finding support and additional resources for yourself. Please consider seeing a good counselor. Someone well versed in cognitive behavioral therapy can help you tremendously. There are practical steps you can take to manage your worry. And here’s an added bonus to counseling; you’ll also have the opportunity to create a richer, more satisfying retirement.

Be aware that the therapist may refer you to your physician for a thorough physical, which is always a good idea. (Keeping yourself physically fit is part of keeping yourself emotionally fit!) Finally, know that there are medications to help treat anxiety. If you are offered this option, please keep a healthy perspective; like a diabetic who takes insulin, medications for anxiety treat a biochemical imbalance … not weakness or character flaws!

You’ve taken a huge step by writing to me. Please, put your next foot forward and give yourself the tools to improve your life.

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