The Worrying Addiction

For the first two years of my teaching career, I was in love with inspirational quotes. I pinned them ferociously on Pinterest, I copied them at work and plastered them on the walls of my classrooms. There was just something about a simple phrase that calmed my mind for a few seconds. Quotes gave my brain a rest from the constant chatter, worry and negative thoughts that seemed to haunt every second of my waking life. You know, that and a lot of alcohol.

Being a nervous person my entire life, I thought this was normal, just a part of

who I was.

 It was so much a part of my routine, my thought process, the way I made decisions and the way I interacted with people. Essentially everything was woven into this constant overload of thought, worry, worrying about the thoughts, creating new thoughts and worrying about those thoughts. It really never had an end, as one situation resolved itself (without my interference, mind you), another one was invented. It bled into every part of my life. I was convinced that my mind couldn't be slowed or stopped, and a high-stress job added to it almost made it unbearable to be awake.

There was this quote I always went back to then.

"Finish each day and be done with it" - Emerson

There's more to it but I always loved the simplicity of that line. I could just never ever practice it. As hard as I tried, I spent all of my mental energy on replaying the terrible day: from beginning to end, like a detective trying to piece together a hypothesis on why it was so terrible. Then the endless questions began, of why and how, the guilt of feeling like I didn't do "enough" in my 12 hour day, and the endless daydreaming of the day where I wouldn't have to think about any of it. All the time. It created crippling insomnia and an inability to enjoy anything, especially on the weekdays. No stop button in sight.

Addictions don't just come in jars and bottles, you know. They can be deeply embedded into the lifestyle choices you're making. You're addicted to demanding attention from everyone around you. You're addicted to seeking out bad relationships in an effort to fix them. And I was completely addicted to trying to control my life through my thoughts. Because mind control is a thing.

I was addicted to worrying. I convinced myself it was uncontrollable. I couldn't control my mind.

I couldn't control my mind. Seriously. I really thought that. This was my proof.

Symptoms of a Worrying Addict

1.) I would stay up for hours, tossing and turning with intense insomnia, simply because I was thinking about what I had to do, what I could do differently about this one thing, replaying that mean look my co-worker gave me in the halls, feeling bad about not returning phone calls.

Actual excerpt from insomnia: "No! I forgot cheese at the grocery store! .... my haircut is so lame! I need bangs tomorrow!...what should I wear tomorrow?.......i wonder if its gonna be cold at school? ugh i hope donald is absent for reading.....I'm a genie in a bottle/ya gotta rub me the......"

Yes. My brain sings Christina Aguilera when it's on autopilot. I'm as upset as you are.

2.) In conversation with really good friends and family, my mind would wander back to....see above.

3.) Weekends with free time would be spent thinking about what I should be doing instead of giving myself much-needed down time to do absolutely nothing.....but shouldn't' I be catching up on laundry? Shouldn't I be making my bathroom prettier by crafting a new way to hold the q-tips? Shouldn't I have lunch with those people I haven't returned phone calls to? Shouldn't I read a book? Paint my nails? Do the dishes? Bake delicious cupcakes for my coworkers? Shouldn't I x 10,000.

4.) A slave to my conscious, I would oscillate between feeling guilty for not doing enough and feeling like a failure if my efforts weren't perfect.

Essentially, most minutes were spent in agony. And I created every bit of it. I longed to really change my life, like my inspirational quotes so simply pointed out.

"Worrying is like a rocking chair..." Yes it is! It's so dumb!

"Overthinking ruins you." So true! I agree!

But quotes only offered validation. Alcohol offered a temporary sedation. I didn't have any idea what to do after both of their effects faded. And it's amazing how exhausted you can be after an entire day of your brain on autoplay.

So here's how I started to peek my head out of self-pity, constant thinking and an addiction to perfection through worrying.

It sounds really sophomoric and slightly cheesy, but I practiced.

  1. I bought some new music because it's not okay to let your brain sing you Christina Aguilera when it's on autopilot. (I mean, at least Beyonce?)
  2. Every time I had a thought that wasn't consciously made by me in this moment (but definitely when I started chewing on negative crap), I looked at the thought as a third party. Completely objective. Making no judgments. Just observing the fact that those thoughts didn't matter. They didn't add value to my life at that moment so I didn't have a reason to think them. This take a LOT of practice, but even turning one bad thought off is extremely liberating and I found myself addicted to the feeling of being free, for at least a little while. (Read "The Power of Now" by Eckart Tolle because he is a master at this.)
  3. I found the strength to give myself permission to do nothing. Recharge by unplugging. Not call people back if I didn't have the energy or emotional strength to explain where I've been, why I don't want to do anything. I started to allow myself  to make sure all of my decisions improved my situation first. Having a cute place to store your q-tips is great. Taking a nap after a 57 hour week is such a better decision.
  4. I practiced being kind to myself. It's okay if I wasn't able to stop worrying today. It's okay if I slept all day and cancelled plans with everyone. It's okay that my vegan mac and cheese that I spent an hour on was disgusting. It's really okay. The laundry and dishes and perfect house can wait. I decided to run with the wild idea that I was more important. Now say that to yourself enough to believe it. Don't let housework or the illusion of control through dusting bully you around. You have another moment after this one. (Or you don't and none of this will matter anyway! Yay!)
  5. I prioritized fun. Not as something I did every once in a while. Not something I planned so I would have something to "look forward to." Not exclusive to an annual vacation. Something as essential as my morning coffee, food, air. I made it a part of my every day.
  6. Sleep. Once I was able to help my mind calm down, I slept. It helped every single area of my life and I made it another non-negotiable.
  7. I realized that everything major, good or bad, never came to me by worrying about them. They came from hard work, making my own luck, natural misfortune of a loved one lost or a situation that eventually made me better. But NONE of those situations were made any better by me thinking them to death. They came and they went, on their own time. Because everything that's hard or great is like that: it comes when it wants and it leaves when it's ready. Believe it. It's true.
  8. None of this will ever work if you don't let go and believe it. You can't start living the life you dream about if you're still trying to control everything by retroactively fixing your day in your head and planning your future. 

I added a new quote to my Pinterest today. Something that I really believe.

Almost a year later and I still have bad days. I still find my mind wandering around trying to invent things to be sad about. But the more I teach it to be quiet when I want quiet and work really well when I actually need to think, and the more I learn the difference between constant chatter and daydreaming that makes me feel good, the less worry has an ability to seep in. It may never be perfect (what is that?), but I'm working on my mind being stronger than anything I could possibly worry about. I'm worry-proofing my conscious.

While you continue your New Years gym routine, losing ell bee's or just wanting to de-stress a bit, don't forget to work on your mind. It's amazing what else you can accomplish when your brain is helping you, not holding you back.