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The Evolution of Worry Worry can spark action if you worry and realize a plan of action needs to be initiated-- and you act. Under those circumstance worry is serving you well. Worry can spark your imagination. Sometimes having a cerebral cortex is not much fun. Imagination can litter our internal environment with every manner of fearful possibility. Many fearful possibilities do not exist outside of our fertile imaginations. Nonetheless, they trigger the same damaging chemical and physical changes as a genuine emergency. Physical and Chemical Changes. Your body starts pumping out an array of chemicals (such as adrenaline) that increase the flow of blood and oxygen to your brain and skeletal muscles. Your blood also clots faster, ready to repair any injuries you sustain in your “fight or flight” reaction.
Possible Consequences of Worry and Stress You may be all keyed up with nothing to fight or flee and no way to turn off the stress chemicals. You become a ticking bomb that is not allowed to explode—so you may implode. If this happens frequently, it can have a serious, even deadly, effect on your health. Every system in your body is affected by worry. In addition to raising blood pressure and increasing blood clotting, worry can prompt your liver to produce more cholesterol, all of which can raise your risk of heart attack and stroke. Muscle tension can give rise to headaches, back pain, and other body aches. Worry can also trigger an increase in stomach acid and either slow or speed up muscle contractions in your intestines, which can lead to stomach aches, constipation, diarrhea, gas or heartburn. Worry can affect your skin (rash or itch). It can impact your respiratory system by aggravating asthma. Growing evidence even suggests that chronic worry can compromise your immune system, making you more vulnerable to bacteria, viruses, perhaps even cancer. What should you do? Talk to someone. Talking to someone about your fears or concerns can shine the light of reason on the products of your imagination. Take action! When nature gave us an imagination to identify potential threats, it also gave us fear to spur us to take protective action. Make a plan and follow it through. Learn to let go. Sometimes knowing the difference between a situation over which you have control and one over which you have no control can help. If there is nothing you can do –acceptance—may be the answer. Switch gears. Think of something over which you have control or a least something more pleasant. Do something you enjoy, perhaps with a friend. You can also test reality with a friend. Work those muscles. Exercise is a fantastic way to relieve stress, burn calories, decrease depression and work toward wellness. Stop the worry before if has the opportunity to take control of your emotions and thoughts. You must work quickly and strike when you first become aware of the negative thoughts that fuel worry. Do something: exercise, splash cold water on your face, snap a rubber band, call a friend, or see a big flashing stop sign in your mind’s eye. You may want to listen to a relaxation CD or go on a mini vacation in your mind. Whatever you choose should channel your thoughts in another more positive direction. Practice, Practice, Practice. It will soon become second nature to relax, exercise, or change thoughts, rather than doing the old counter-productive worrying. Caution: You may want to avoid eating or drinking alcoholic beverages to medicate the discomfort of anxiety. They can be very dangerous ways to cope and as one could predict-- they do not work. The original problems are still there--they simply have company.
Dr Dorothy McCoy is a psychotherapist and author of workbooks, books, CDs and an e-course on anxiety disorders and weight loss. www.Counseling.com/DrMcCoy/