If you think you’re a worry wart, chances are you are right. And if so, worry may be making you sick.

Worry may seem like something natural or something that “runs in the family” like the gene for brown eyes. And if that’s how you think about it, you are likely to live with it and never recognize it for what it really is – a bad habit. If this is you, I ask you to reframe how you handle stressful events because you risk putting yourself in jeopardy of illness and diseases, as benign as premature wrinkles and headaches or as serious as ulcers and heart disease.

Studies show how worrying too much triggers a release of the stress hormone cortisol that speeds up your heart rate and breathing, raises your blood sugar and sends more blood to your arms and legs. Over time this can affect your heart, blood vessels, muscles, and other systems of your body.

If your body is affected by the physical effects of worry, it may not fight germs as well. Just thinking about things that make you angry or depressed can take a toll. It can make it harder for you to fend off the flu or other viruses. And it can lead to any one of the hundred autoimmune diseases out there.

The “butterflies” in your stomach when you’re nervous may be no big deal. But if these feelings become more serious or chronic, you may feel nauseous or even vomit. Frequent occurrences of this may lead to stomach pain, ulcers, or acid reflux. Constant fretting may also affect your bowel habits — you could experience constipation or diarrhea.

Worry is a habit often learned in our family of origin. You may have unconsciously picked up this poor habit of worrying without even realizing it. But the good news is you can practice new habits and condition yourself not to worry. It’s not easy, but it IS possible! The truth is anything we learn, we can unlearn. Understand… all feelings (anxiety, worry, anger, sadness or anything else for that matter!) started with a thought before it became a feeling. You have a thought that translates into a feeling. And you are in control of what you think. Training your mind to assume the best in a situation rather than the worst is a good first step to take. Training your thoughts to be positive isn’t easy but making it a regular practice can change your feelings and change your life!

Another strategy for keeping worry at bay involves intentionally filling my head with inspirational or positive thoughts so I can turn the negative chatter in my head into loving, faith-filled, positive messaging instead. Do you have a motivational speaker you admire? Is there a pastor, spiritual leader or inspirational author that has written something powerful that speaks to you? Do you know a TV star who is admirable in this area? Some people who have inspired me with positivity are Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, Joel Osteen, Tony Robbins, John Maxwell, Eckhart Tolle, Gary Zukav, Gabrielle Bernstein, or Michel Singer to name a few. Use books, tapes, videos, or podcasts to fill your head with their words, their voices, their inspiration! And the more you listen to them the more you’ll hear a new “tape” playing in your head and the easier it will be to bring that to the forefront when you need it most. 

Calming or inspiring music is another great way to sooth a worrisome mind. Keep your favorites in your car, at work, on DVDs, CDs, flash drives, smartphones, or tablets. Keep that station with uplifting tunes on a pre-set in your car for when the mood hits and you know you need it.

Consider the reality that you are ONLY in control of yourself, your words, your actions. You are not in charge of anybody else or any other circumstances. This means if someone is baiting you into an argument you have a choice to take the bait or keep swimming. I encourage you to detach yourself from the issue or respectfully disagree. You don’t have to buy into the frenzy. And you don’t have to worry about appearances if you are keeping your side of the street clean. This is all very hard to do at first, but it honestly gets easier and easier the more you practice it.

Aromatherapy is so helpful for calming an anxious mind. I diffuse a blend of Spruce, Rosewood, Blue Tansy and Frankincense essential oils. Or sometimes I diffuse a fit tree scent. The fragrance of trees and flowers are very grounding and offer balance and serenity to an active mind. In addition to having this diffusing near me, I may put a few drops on the bottoms of my feet or over my heart or temples. Aromatherapy works in a very real way to bring me to a place of peace. There are scientific systems at work when inhaling scents. Click here to learn more about how aromatherapy works.

Pet your pet! Your beloved fur babies honestly can lower your blood pressure. Sweet doggie eyes or kitty purrs have real physiological benefits. I have a little black cat named Max, and his unconditional love makes me happy, while his purring helps me fall asleep.

You may also wish to recite the words of the Serenity Prayer. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Not only saying it, but really focusing on the words. They are so simple and so wise.

Essentially, you CAN incorporate positive strategies into your life to help you manage your level of stress, worry and anxiety. You do not have to live with the damaging effects of this dangerous habit. Make a decision today to change that bad habit into a good one! 

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