Confessions of a Chronic Worrier

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Of all the things in my life I’ve ever worried about being bad at, worrying isn’t one of them.

Most of my life I’ve been a chronic worrier with an amazing ability to over think everything. If I was going to chose a super power I think I’d have probably chosen something different.

The first thing I remember REALLY worrying about was when I was about 11 and I was terrified of the end of the world (though in retrospect, that’s a pretty valid worry, right?). My parents would wave me off to school in the morning, and I would be convinced that I would never see them again.

I did exactly the same in my mid 20s after ill advisedly reading the book Swan Song by Robert McCammon which had me sick to my stomach for weeks.

I’ve never confined myself to merely worrying myself sick about issues on a global scale, though. Oh no. I’m perfectly capable of worrying myself into illness about regular things as well, such as whether I remembered to lock the front door before I walked into town and whether there is enough money on the electricity meter and all my food is going to defrost while I am away for the weekend.

Confessions of a Chronic Worrier

When we were camping on Valentines Day I became obsessed for about an hour with the idea that the potboiler stove was leaking Carbon Monoxide, even though I knew we had an alarm. I only got over it when I decided to worry about whether I was, in fact, completely ruining what should have been a very pleasant evening by worrying about dying.

I realised long ago that I don’t seem to have the ability other people have to just let things go, let them wash over me without grasping onto the worst thing that can possibly happen and obsessing about it constantly. If someone mentions something that people are doing wrong without mentioning names, I will be convinced it is me and analyse all my most recent interactions for signs of wrong doing. Hangovers are appalling opportunities for me to obsess about what stupid things I must have said or done the night before, even though everyone else was equally badly behaved. I can over analyse every social interaction I have ever had. Sometimes I still wake up in a cold sweat about that time I said goodbye to someone weirdly when I was 14, and I can worry about everything from the Zombie Apocalypse to how much money I do, or don’t, have, all in the space of a day.

The weird thing is I can be incredibly calm and in control while in the midst of a crisis, I’m not a person who goes to pieces. If things are going really well, however, I completely fall apart worrying about when the cosmos will force me to pay for it with global apocalypse or merely a domestic apocalypse.

Be Kind to Yourself

(You can get these self care temporary tattoos here on Etsy)

There have been times when I’ve ended up at the Doctors on the hard drugs, but these days I mostly manage to keep my obsessing to a low-level background of worry and I try not to let it interfere with my every day life.

When you’re a chronic worrier people often offer helpful advice. While well-meaning, some of it isn’t very helpful at all. Here are some particular favourites of mine, perhaps you’ve heard, or given them, yourself?

Will it matter in 10 years time?

This is a particular hated piece of advice that I read for Chronic Worriers all the time. Now not only do I have to worry about whatever thing I am worrying about, I also have to worry about whether it will still matter in 10 years time.

Do you know what, sometimes it will. If the world had ended when I was 11 I think we’d all have been pretty bummed about it. I mean, we’d all be dead, so maybe we wouldn’t, but that wasn’t really a consolation. And what if it was a nuclear holocaust type end of the world and I survive and in 10 years time I am fighting off giant mutant rat people with a stick. Yeah, that might matter.

You can’t do anything about it, so what is the point of worrying?

If it were that simple to stop, I wouldn’t have started. Anyway, maybe I can do something about it, maybe I can turn around and walk 2 miles home to check I locked the back door. Except I know that wouldn’t be rational, so instead I will just worry about it till I get home, like a normal person. Also, what if there is something I can do about it that I just haven’t figured out yet? Maybe if I worry about it for another few hours I’ll suddenly realise the answer?

Just think about something else

Good plan. The problem is that you actually CAN think about more than one thing at once, and I am more than capable of sitting down and mentally planning an entire weeks worth of outfits and watching an episode of Buffy whilst simultaneously worrying about how I am going to die of Swine Flu.

Be Cheerful

So What Does Help?

Just in case I am speaking to any other chronic worriers, I shall put my sarcasm aside momentarily and share some things that genuinely have helped me control my obsessive worrying and kept me out of the Doctors office.

Mindfulness

This is like a massive buzzword right now, everyone loves mindfulness meditation.  I used an app called Headspace, and it taught me some of those skills of letting go that seem to come so easily to other people. The problem with thinking about stopping thinking about something is that you can’t do that without thinking about it (Whatever you do, don’t think about a pink elephant). Headspace uses the analogy of your thoughts like passing traffic. You can run out into the road and try and stop the cars as they pass, or you can just acknowledge that they are there and let them go. I can’t do it all the time, but it’s really helped on a day-to-day basis.

For me the key was to practice these skills when I WASN’T worrying, rather than waiting for the time when I was obsessively thinking about something, because then I can’t let it go.

Herbal Remedies

I’ve been using a combination of St Johns Wort and 5-HTP for years. I buy them from Natures Best. I take St Johns Wort all the time, and 5-HTP if I’m going through a bad patch. I use the depot contraceptive injection and have found I get worse as it starts to wear off, so I will use 5-HTP and also a vitamin B supplement at this time.

Roller Derby

Ok, not just Roller Derby, it’s not obligatory to take up Roller Derby to deal with chronic worry, and yeah, sometimes Roller Derby gives me whole new things to worry about obsessively (Am I too rubbish? Will I make the A team try outs? Does everyone think I’m an idiot secretly? Am I going to get hideously hurt? Do I have the right colour leggings for an upcoming game?). It’s partly exercise, and partly having a hobby that has helped. Before Roller Derby running helped too, but I was never as obsessed with running.

Turns out all those people who told me to “just think about something else” were a bit right, but you need to find the right thing to think about. Having a hobby means I can spend time planning workout and training plans, setting goals and scheduling my busy life and suddenly I haven’t worried about the end of the world for a whole 2 hours.

Sleep

A tired Retro Chick is a worried Retro Chick. These days I try and make sure I get a minimum of 7 1/2 hours sleep a night, and I turn to Nytol One-A-Night tablets for a while if I’m finding that my nights are disturbed by anxiety dreams, or I’m just not sleeping well.

Over the years I’ve learnt to start controlling the things I can. I try to keep money aside so I know if something goes hideously wrong I can at least buy a train ticket, book a hotel room, buy food or pay for an emergency plumber. I used to be incapable of planning ahead to do anything nice as I’d spend the whole run up worrying about it not happening, now I just plan it anyway and deal with my brain.

Anyway, now I’m off to worry about publishing this blog post.

Any other chronic worriers out there, or is it just me?

26 Responses
  • Emily
    February 24, 2016

    Thank you for posting this! I sometimes think I’m the only one

    • Gemma
      February 24, 2016

      You’re definitely not the only one!

  • Philippa
    February 24, 2016

    This could have been written about me! At 36, after various false starts with counseling & meds, I’m coming to the end of a course of CBT and it has changed my life. I will always struggle with worry & anxiety but hopefully I now have tools to stop it becoming excessive. We’re doing ok! X

    • Gemma
      February 24, 2016

      I was referred for CBT once, but by the time the refferal came through the immediate crisis had passed and talking to the counsellor just made me more anxious so I never went back!

      • Philippa
        February 24, 2016

        Oh no! I was feeling pretty good at the time my appointment came through (2years later!) but I knew it would tear it’s head again so stuck with it. There have been some thoroughly unpleasant sessions and lots of home work but I can definitely see how it’s helped. It’s not for everyone but without the self discipline and with some deep routed cognitive habits, I needed professional guidance. The suggestions you’ve made are actually similar to some CBT practices. Self care is a big one.

      • Gemma
        February 24, 2016

        Yeah, I know, I think it would have been useful, but I kinda did it myself. I did have access to a CBT website that the Dr gave me once as well!

  • Ilma
    February 24, 2016

    When I saw the title of the blog post, I thought that ‘Oh, no way that dear Gemma also suffering from this sh…inconvenience.’
    Unfortunately I has the same problem for loong years. Usually this feeling comes up when I’m thinking about my future – and then starting to grow bigger and bigger, sweating, no appetite, stomach size of a lemon, etc. And the questions like bombs blowing up all the time in my head and ruining my present.
    (Maybe that is the ‘perks’ of being 25 – knowing nothing about the future and feeling lost and ‘un-adult’.)
    My methods: relaxing 30 minutes to rain sounds, just lying, breathing, and imagining the little watrerdrops; herbal tea from setwall and parkleaves.

  • Philippa
    February 24, 2016

    Oooooh, quick note about Depo too, I had to take a six month break recently and it sent be bat crap crazy. I have it at 11 wks instead of 12 to combat the wearing off effects. My brain needs that progesterone, as well as my body! X

    • Gemma
      February 24, 2016

      I get mine at 10 weeks, as soon as they’ll let me!

  • Amber
    February 24, 2016

    Oh, my God, this is SO me – right down the worrying /feeling bad about stuff I did years and years ago, and assuming every critical comment I read is about me. I spent ages yesterday worrying that a thread on a Facebook group was directed at me, and going back through my most recent posts/social media posts to try to reassure myself that I hadn’t done anything wrong. Also, I HATE the “worrying doesn’t fix anything” advice, too – I’m not worrying because I think it’ll help, I’m worrying because I just can’t stop myself – aargh!

  • Michele
    February 24, 2016

    I agree with all your ideas, but like you, I am a chronic worrier even though I can logically tell myself all these wonderful things, it is in my nature to worry and fret. I am glad to know I am not the only one like this, but sorry to hear that you are too. I find it all worse when I find myself at loose ends of things to do. Walking the dog is always a big help, and the big goofus is always happy to go out and sniff everything (the dog, not me). Working in my garden or yard is my best trick, I know that what I am doing makes my home more beautiful and I get to enjoy the fruits and vegetables of my labours. Hope you find the tricks that works, if you do, let me know. Cheers, Michele

  • Fi Phillips
    February 24, 2016

    Have to agree – mindfulness really helps keep my anxiety levels down, that and cutting down on caffeine and sugar. Great article.

  • Ev
    February 24, 2016

    Love your blog! 😉

    ______________________
    PERSONAL STYLE BLOG
    http://evdaily.blogspot.com

  • Rachel
    February 24, 2016

    Such a great blog post – I also suffer from chronic worrying and anxiety issues. It’s good know that I’m not alone! I often find myself worrying about things that have occurred years ago, and although I know they don’t matter anymore it really doesn’t stop me from worrying. If I find that my anxiety is really getting out of hand, I imagine myself in the other person’s shoes (assuming that I’m worrying about an interaction with someone) and think about whether I would be bothered if I were them. Usually the answer is no. I recognise that it’s ridiculous to constantly ruminate about how I said hello to goodbye to someone, or whether I was polite enough over email/text – and at the moment I’m trying to work out why there are times when I’m more anxious about such things, and times when I’m not. Sleep is definitely a factor that makes it worse, and also whether or not I feel in control of things generally. If I don’t, then I’m more anxious. I remember one occasion where I became so overwhelmingly worried about whether I’d left the grill on when we’d gone out, and I had no way of getting home to check – I genuinely thought we’d come home to a burnt down house with the fire brigade out site – it was horrendous. I usually triple check everything before I leave the house, but I didn’t remember doing it. I haven’t heard of the Headspace app before – I will definitely be giving that a try! I also think that an exercise or hobby really helps. I do ballet, and it is impossible to think about anything else whilst I’m doing it – the relief is just euphoric at times.

  • CiCi Marie
    February 24, 2016

    This speaks to me! I worried obsessively about a nuclear holocaust after being forced to watch Threads aged 14 at school. I’ve never gotten over that film. Never, ever watch it, by the way. True story: when I first met my boyfriend I found the DVD of this film in his bedroom and genuinely considered breaking up with him as I couldn’t think how I’d be with someone that liked something that ruined my life! I’m glad I didn’t now, but I still have moments where I feel like he’s betrayed me somehow and I still think about that film all the damn time.

    Anyway, that turned into a bit of a story. What I’m saying is I can relate because I am definitely one of these people and I also think that having an activity that absorbs my thoughts helps. For me, that’s actually blogging. Well, I worry constantly about my blog but it’s just a blog – my income doesn’t depend on it so it doesn’t really matter if it goes wrong. So it’s like a worry outlet that stops me worrying about things like the world ending, and that kinda works for me!

  • Helga
    February 24, 2016

    Guilty…..my Mother was too. I just figured I got it from her.
    Now I’ll be worrying bout admitting to this……..

  • Sharon
    February 24, 2016

    It’s always really comforting when some whose blog you follow puts up a post like this. Can totally relate. Have to go, think I’ve left my straighteners on and they’re burning down the house. Aggghh.

  • Michelle
    February 24, 2016

    I completely understand, and worry about stupid things pretty much most of the time. I have always been like it, and am sure it is too late (and i am too old) to change. I find ways of dealing with it, but agree it is hard, and advice is sometimes unhelpful.
    Thanks for your words, i always look forward to reading your latest posts x

  • Aneta
    February 25, 2016

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this post! I am just in the middle of a stressful period, which of course brings anxiety and I am so happy to see I am not alone and that you and so many other lovely people have found a way to deal with it.
    When I am in some difficult situation I always procrastinate and then I worry about me procrastinating… It is a vicious circle.
    Your post helps me see through it, I can beat that!
    Thank you again…

  • Miss Magpie
    February 25, 2016

    My Mum is a chronic worrier as is my sister. In the family my Mum’s nickname is is ‘the Black Crow of Doom’ and my sister ‘Little Miss Apocalypse’ so that gives you an idea how bad they are!

    My brother and I are lesser worriers. Every now and then things get too much and as a teen I struggled with depression and anxiety but CBT really helped. I also use sort of mindfulness techniques I learned when I did the Alexander Technique. These days if I find myself getting a bit hysterical over something silly I mostly manage to reel myself back by saying ‘Steady now! you’re straying into Mother territory’

  • Mim McDonald (@crinolinerobot)
    February 25, 2016

    I am an appalling worrier. Not as bad as I used to be; I had therapy for it years ago, which helped tremendously. It hasn’t stopped me worrying, but I’m able to take better control of my worries and stop them spiralling. So, like you I do at least have the advantage of being able to handle things when the sh!t hits the fan, because I’ve already played the scenario through in my mind a hundred times.

    My main concerns are: losing my job (because no-one will ever want to re-employ me and then I will lose my home and starve in a gutter somewhere); Bad Things happening to the cats; the cooker is on. Oh, and I get really bad just before flying anywhere on holiday because THE BURGLARS ARE COMING.

    All that probably explains why I blog/ take on freelance – when I’ve got a deadline to worry about, all the other worries can get in the queue…

  • Anthea
    February 25, 2016

    I’m a chronic worrier too. For me sleep and running really helps me getting calm again. I also need to keep my agenda a little more empty then I wish too. But it helps staying calm and in control.

  • Kirsty
    February 26, 2016

    Not just you. I worry about everything. I always say that I do worst case scenario really well but like you said when there’s a crisis I don’t go to pieces and I reckon that’s because I’ve already obsessively worried about the worst case scenario alternatives beforehand and had plan of action in my head for them all. Does make me a nightmare though when I leave something important to someone else planning wise because I still worry about every detail.

  • Steph
    February 26, 2016

    I so identify with this post! In fact I have a similar one in my drafts right now about being a highly emotive person! I have learnt to quell the constant worrying a little and I’m much better than I was, but it’s tough! My ex used to say to me “Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do but it gets you no where!” So true, but quitting is easier said than done! He on the other hand though worries about absolutely nothing which I don’t think is entirely healthy either. There needs to be a happy medium!

  • Alexandra
    February 26, 2016

    This describes me to a T as well! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Tori
    February 27, 2016

    Hello fellow worrier ☺

    Reading about what you fretting over was like reading my own mind haha. I’ve been a worrier for as many years as I have been on this planet. Two years ago I was diagnosed with G.A.D aka generalised anxiety disorder. Oh joy. I have been given therapy which thankfully, is working. Slowly. I understand just how frustrating those “helpful” comments are from others as well. My personal favouritestatement being ” just let it go” “try to relax” – yes simple. No, the reason why I am the way I am is because I Can’t let it go or relax!!! Ahhh the life of us worries. You are not alone x x