Dear New Shrink,
For the last few years, I have been suffering from chronic stomachaches, heartburn and acid reflux. My doctor says he believes these symptoms are all related to my stress level. I will admit I am somewhat of a worrier. There isn’t anything unbearable or tragic going on in my life right now but I do constantly find myself worrying about work, school and what’s going to happen tomorrow. I find myself even worrying about the littlest things. How can I control this? How can I stop worrying so much?
A lot of people worry in an excessive way. There is often something that might cause worry for most people but to be healthy, to keep it in perspective, worry should not be so excessive as to cause symptoms such as these or something similar like headaches, ulcers, high blood pressure, insomnia or fatigue. Excessive worry is a complete waste of time; it does absolutely no good at all except that it can give us an illusion of being in control. In this sense, it is a defense mechanism. But as you point out indirectly in describing your painful symptoms, it is often a costly one. When you have stomach problems and acid reflux, your problem has become quite serious. Acid reflux can lead to cancer of the esophagus, one of the leading cancers in the United States right now. Worrying can also be easily classified as negative stress, which can compromise our immune systems. Not to mention, if you worry long enough and hard enough, you can drive your blood pressure up.
Sometimes, worrying is caused from an underlying anxiety disorder or what is known as obsessive-compulsive disorder. These conditions can be treated with a psychotropic medication from the SSRI group or with certain types of talk therapy. Meditation and yoga can also be helpful in teaching you how to control your own mind.
Certainly something needs to be done when it gets as bad as you describe. You said you are in school, so I wonder about your age and how long you have had these symptoms? The sooner you catch it, the better. You also say that nothing bad is going on “right now,” so I wonder if something bad happened in the past. In a similar vein, I also wonder if something unexpected happened that was difficult for you to deal with. If so, you might have what is known as post-traumatic stress. There are a lot of questions I might ask if I were your doctor. For now, I would just say again, take this very seriously and find a solution that works for you.
Ask yourself why you think you might be worrying so much? Did something happen to you that you need to get over? Are you sure that there is nothing to worry about? Are your loved ones OK? Is someone close to you having problems that concern you? Is there anything that you can actually do? If so, do it but then work on letting it go.
Definitely ask yourself if you feel more in control when you worry. Does it really get you what you want? Ask yourself if it’s worth it to worry so much; can you afford the consequences of these physical symptoms if they continue? Try to be as honest with yourself as you can possibly be. This alone can lead you to possible solutions.
Try exercise, which can eliminate stress, and try meditation or yoga. These things along with rigorous self-honesty can take you a long way. If you cannot stop this on your own, please recognize that you need help. The professional help you might need should be short and sweet, so to speak.
Most of all remember that worry is not an honest feeling. It is an emotion we design to give ourselves a sense of control. But it is only an illusion. What have you ever actually changed or even controlled with your worry? I recently wrote an article that included a similar sentiment about hope. Just like hope, worry can be used like a drug. It is not always used in good faith and it can either let us down or end up causing us unpleasant consequences. Use it if you need it, but learn to do so sparingly and appropriately but then, let it go. You will be better for it!
Dr. Barge is a licensed psychologist and licensed marriage and family therapist with offices in Brentwood. Send your comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit us @www.newshrink.com. All questions and responses are kept strictly confidential. Please let us help you with your life matters.