Worrying About Worry

This week Tina and Serena spend a bit of time worrying about worry. They talk about the differences between worry and anxiety and share some personal experiences along with some thoughts about taming the worry monster.

Notes and Mentions

From Henry Ford Health: Worry and Anxiety: Do You Know the Difference? Happify: How to Leave Your Worries Behind

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Tina: Hey everyone, I'm Tina.

Serena: And I'm Serena, and we are the Mental Health Mamas.


Tina: Welcome to No Need to Explain. We are so glad you're here.

Serena: First, as always, a quick disclaimer.

Tina: We come to you not as mental health professionals or experts in the field, but rather as parents with lived experience who are on a mission to normalize the conversation around mental health.

Serena: If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, please seek professional support. You'll find a variety of resources on our show notes and on our website, noneedtoexplainpodcast.com.

Tina: Serena, I have a question. Are you a worrier?

Serena: Yeah, yeah, I think maybe a professional worrier. So just quick story, a few months ago, one of my kids decided that she was going to find something that I don't worry about. And after a few minutes of going back and forth, my husband intervened and told her that she was never gonna win this one and to just surrender. So what about you, Tina?

Tina: I am a worrier and my kids the same?a mega worrier. Maybe my husband would say that too, I'm not sure.

Serena: Is that like a superpower, maybe? A mega worrier.

Tina: I don't know. And we're not saying the word warrior either. We are maybe warriors in a different way, but we're worriers.

Serena: Worriers, yes.

Tina: And wonder if there's anyone out there who doesn't worry, right? I mean, I can imagine like most things that worrying is on a spectrum.

Serena: Right, yeah. So let's talk about worry today or maybe we'll worry about worrying.

Tina: Or let's not, let's just talk about it.

Serena: Alright. That sounds good. So as I was thinking about this episode, it did seem important to distinguish worry from anxiety. And I think that, you know, I did a lot of reading on this and so we're gonna like share some thoughts around what distinguishes worry from anxiety. And so there's some basics that we kind of wanna talk about today. And so I would say that I'm a worrier and I also have anxiety. And so like you said, Tina, I think it exists on a spectrum. So where would you put yourself on that spectrum?

Tina: Yeah, so I would say I'm much more of a worrier than I am anxious. And it totally depends on the circumstance. I do get anxious about certain things, but mostly that I can recognize that now that we have had anxiety defined in professional ways, right? And I can recognize it. So yeah, I guess I get anxious about certain things, but probably worry more than I have real angst about things, so.

Serena: Yeah, that makes sense. And so I think you can be a worrier and have anxiety or be a worrier without anxiety. But I think if you have anxiety, you are also a worrier, maybe.

Tina: That makes sense to me, total sense. And again, we are not trained professionals, but we are just kind of doing a little chatting today about worry and anxiety. So just take it for what it's worth, and we are gonna share some personal experiences around that.

Serena: Yes, yeah, so one of the distinctions that I was reading about that really kind of spoke to me is the idea that worry is generally something happening in our mind, in our brain, whereas anxiety, we might feel it in other parts of our body.

Tina: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me. Again, all the things I know from lots of therapy over the years. So our worry starts to cause headaches, stomach aches, nausea, other responses in our body, then I think that's more than worry.

Serena: Yeah, I would agree with that. So just the other day, my youngest was starting a new gymnastics class, and it was actually very sad in some ways. She leaned her head on my shoulder as we?re waiting for her class to start and said in this little voice, ?I don't like doing new things?, which I thought was a really great thing that she was able to identify that. And I thought, oh she's worried about this. And then she said that her tummy was hurting, and I thought, okay, this is probably a little more than just worry.

Tina: Yeah, yeah, so I can relate to this. And I would say, like I said, we've learned a lot about anxiety over the years, like clinical anxiety, like general anxiety disorder. That's what I guess I would talk about. So I don't think I could many times relate to that. I was empathetic, but I don't know that I could put myself in someone else's shoes truly. But I had this one kind of profound example in my life that I just remember. We were in Jackson, Wyoming, and we were headed, it was the summer, and we were headed to this ski resort. And we were gonna see this beautiful mountain, right? Likely going to the top of it on a tram. I knew all this was gonna happen. I started worrying because I am afraid of heights. So the trams started going up and up and up, and I literally had a full-blown panic attack. I've never had one before. And I know from all that I've learned again over the years that it's an extreme response to worry, but I think it's kind of tipping to that anxiety. So I was so terribly anxious. My heart rate increased, my breathing got very shallow. I was extremely lightheaded. And although we didn't get onto the mountain, we literally turned around and got back into the car and went right back down the mountain. I really felt all those feels for at least an hour after the fact. So there's that shift for me, right? From worry to that feeling in my body, really true anxiety. And we know panic attacks are really real for people with anxiety.

Serena: Right, and it sounds like your body was flooded with stress hormones, right?

Tina: Yeah, yeah, yeah, it was bad, it was bad. I don't recommend it, no. Maybe people are into it, but not me.

Serena: Yeah, yeah, okay, so according to Henry Ford Health, some of the other distinctions between anxiety and worry, including the length of time experienced. So worry tends to be kind of a space of time, right? Like it could be temporary or a short period of time while anxiety tends to be longer lasting.

Tina: Mm-hmm, so I would also say that in general, and I'm gonna speak generally here, that worry is about a specific thing, and that for me is really true. And anxiety tends to be more vague in nature, although mine was specific. I think many times if you ask someone, why are you feeling anxious? There is a vagueness to that, right? So yeah, it's hard to pinpoint sometimes.

Serena: Right, right, like that idea of I'm just, I'm just feeling anxious, so I can't, you know, maybe there was something, but now I'm not sure what it is that set it off. Maybe something set it off, but yeah. So here's another one. Worry, again, in general, tends to be rooted in something real, and anxiety often includes catastrophic thinking or fears about something impossible. And so one of my kids has a fear of black holes. Now, black holes are real, but are we at risk of being sucked into one? I don't think so, and I'm not gonna spend too much time worrying about that right now.

Tina: Well, and if we are, we are, right? And I think one of the most important distinctions is that anxiety really impairs function and gets in the way of living your life while worry does not, again, in general. So I would say it is not the sunny day at the beach where we think about anxiety. It is the, you know, the time when you can't get out of bed. That's when it's the problem, yeah.

Serena: Right, so if you find that you're struggling to do your normal everyday activities, then you may need some additional support. You, or if you see this happening in your kids as well, it's important to recognize the line between I'm worried about a test at school today and I have a stomachache and I can't go to school. If that makes sense. But let's get back to what I really wanted to talk about today and that's what we can do about worry.

Tina: Yeah, and we wanna totally, as we do most things, normalize it, right? Worry is normal.

Serena: I'm gonna say it again, worry is normal.

Tina: Yeah, so you might think of it as one of our safety mechanisms, right? We come pre-installed with worry to help us stay out of danger.

Serena: Yeah, it's a great point. So we can think of worry as a way of protecting us and helping us to stop and think before we do something that could potentially be dangerous.

Tina: But there are a lot of negatives to worry too. There's a great infographic from Happify that we'll link to that talks about some of these challenges. For example, did you know that worry can interfere with your working memory?

Serena: And that makes perfect sense to me. We talked about this a bit in our episode on too many open tabs, which you'll find in our second season. If you have a lot of worry tabs open in your brain, you're draining your ability to focus on what you really wanna focus on. So it's like having too many things running on your computer at once.

Tina: Yeah, absolutely. Here's another negative from the same infographic. Worry has an unseen cost on caregivers and it takes time and energy that could be better spent on caring for themselves.

Serena: So let's stop and think about that for a moment. So we're talking about caregivers. So that's parents. That's people caring for their own parents, for older individuals, people who care for others through their work that they do or simply humans who care for other humans. That's a lot of us. And all of these people who have devoted time and energy to caring for others, when they spend time worrying, when we spend time worrying, we're actually taking time and energy away from caring for ourselves.

Tina: And we know that self-care is already challenging for so many of us. So what do we do? Can we talk about what we can do about this problem, this worry problem?

Serena: Yes. Please.

Tina: Okay, so here's a bit of irony for you and perhaps not a surprise. While self-care may be extra challenging, it's one of the best things you can do for worry. Do I need to say that again?

Serena: Well, I was gonna say, we probably sound like a broken record and maybe you're tired of hearing this, maybe not. But we say it over and over again for ourselves. That's the secret, right? That it's, we have to remind ourselves over and over again that self-care is where it's at.

Tina: Yes, we need the constant reminders. Fueling our bodies with good food, getting enough sleep, moving our bodies in ways that feel good, finding time for yourselves, all the basics of good self-care can really help reduce worry. And think about that, especially with sleep, I just have to bring this up, right? If you are overtired, do you worry about more things?

Serena: Right. Yes. Yeah, so something very specific we do in my house is that we are very intentional about not watching the news. I think there are so many things to worry about without adding more fuel to the fire. We learned a long time ago that we needed to keep our kids away from the news. And, you know, not surprisingly, it has helped us as adults too, that 24-7 flow of information is not good for anyone.

Tina: Yeah, and that's certainly been true during COVID. I found myself needing a real news break and others in my house were just news junkies and it was really hard, it was way too much for me. And I knew that, and I was starting to feel it in my body, not just in my brain, it was really a lot. And something else to think about is not fighting back. We are all about feeling all the feels. And there's a value in feeling the worry for a bit and not trying to just push it down or ignore it.

Serena: Yeah, but maybe setting some boundaries around that. So a predetermined amount of time. For example, if you're feeling worried about something, you might allow yourself five minutes to sit in that worry and then move on. You could even write it down and very literally put it away. It can be super helpful. If your worries are keeping you awake, you might try writing them down and then put them in another room.

Tina: I like that. And I like the idea of limiting the time. We feel the worry, putting super boundaries around that.

Serena: And so here's something that we did actually with one of my kids that she worked on with her therapist and then in coordination with her school. And I just love this idea.

Tina: Me too.

Serena: Okay, great. So I think she was in first grade at the time and she was having a really difficult time during the school day, just worrying about, I don't even know what, just little things. And so she was having trouble focusing on her schoolwork and doing what she was supposed to be doing. So she and her therapist made this worry box. And I think it was probably like a pencil box that they decorated with stickers and stuff. And so whenever she, so she took it to school and whenever she felt worried at school, she could write down whatever the worry was and she put it in the box. And so she was literally putting that worry away. And then she was allowed to take the worries out at a specific time to talk them over with someone when the teacher had a moment or somebody else who was helping out. But what we found is that once she put the worries in the box, she didn't really need to revisit them.

Tina: Yeah, that sounds like just acknowledging the worry was helpful.

Serena: Yeah, I think that's exactly it, that validation. And I think we tend to tell kids or maybe adults too, don't worry or you worry too much or that's not something to worry about. Effective?

Tina: Not at all. It's like telling someone to relax. Just relax.

Serena: Just relax. Yeah, so I think we can also think about what might be within our control. So often, worry may be around something out of our control, but maybe there is a problem to solve, something that you can do to make the situation less worrisome. So I'll give a personal example. I tend to worry about going somewhere I've never been before and not knowing what to expect. And that could be any number of situations. But for me, information is power and helps me worry less. So maybe I need to know how long it's going to take me to drive there, maybe where I need to park. Am I going to have to pay for parking, right? What can I expect when I get there? And these are things we've used with my kids too, as in we're going to a new place. Can we go on the internet and see pictures of it? So they have an idea of what it might look like ahead of time before we show up.

Tina: Yeah. And I imagine that helps alleviate some of their worry.

Serena: Absolutely. Yeah.

Tina: And if you're worrying about something that is truly out of your control, such as like what the weather is going to be like the next day, or if there'll be lots of traffic on the way, you can add extra time and just let it go. You've done what you can and continuing to worry is really not going to change the outcome. And I will remind our listeners of my therapist's suggestion when I was struggling last summer with worry, hold the vision, think of the outcome you want, trust the process and wait.

Serena: And what I hear in that waiting is a little bit of letting go, right?

Tina: I'm putting it in the box, right?

Serena: Yeah. And I'm just going to throw in one more thing here. It may seem like a bit of a no brainer, but it's worth mentioning because I maybe had this conversation with my adult child before. If you find yourself feeling particularly worried or anxious, you might consider what you've consumed that day. So, you know, that could be the news, right? You could have consumed news or something worrying a headline, or you might've had too much caffeine or sugar or something else that doesn't agree with your system. And that could make you feel really anxious.

Tina: That is a very, very good point. So let's go ahead and go back over the ideas for reducing worry.

Serena: Okay. So I'm going to say it again, self-care. So are you moving your body, sleeping well, and paying attention to how you're fueling your body?

Tina: Unplug, turn off the news, put down your phone and walk away from that 24 seven flow of information.

Serena: You might try accepting the worry and sitting with it, but make sure you're setting boundaries around it. This is not an all day, every day. So how long are you going to allow yourself to spend time worrying?

Tina: And try writing your worries down and putting it away. Separate yourself from your worry thoughts.

Serena: And acknowledge the worry, which may be part of the writing it down. And then problem solve around whether there's anything you can do to change the situation. If not, do your best to let it go. And again, not easy. We get that.

Tina: We do. And I will remind you, hold the vision, trust the process and wait. Again, put it away. And if you find worrying taking over your life and keeping you from doing the things you want or need to be doing, please do not hesitate to seek professional help. It is normal. People do these things. We would also love to hear your thoughts about how you deal with your worry.

Serena: And so podcast friends, we are, as always, grateful for all of you listening and supporting us. You can help us out by visiting Apple Podcasts, leave us a review, subscribe and share with a friend. You will find more content on our website, no need to explain podcast.com. Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or call us. You can leave us a voice message. You'll find that number in our notes. Share a bit of your story. Tell us what you think of the podcast. Share your ideas for dealing with worry. Or just call to say hi.

Tina: And this is your gentle reminder to take good care of yourself while you're also taking care of your people.

Serena: Thanks so much for listening.

Tina: Bye!