For the Week of December 4, 2017: Worry, Worry, Worry

My pants could maybe fall down when I dive off the diving board.

My nose could maybe keep growing and never quit.

Miss Brearly could ask me to spell words like stomach and special.    

     (Stumick and speshul?)

(From:  “Fifteen, Maybe Sixteen Things to Worry About,” by Judith Viorst, in: If I Were in Charge of the World and Other Worries, 1981)

Worry.  None of us is immune to it.  Whether for ourselves or those you care about, everyone falls prey to worry many times over a lifetime.  I worried, as a teenager, if the boy I had a crush on “liked” me.  In college, I worried over exams and grades.  As a young mother of two daughters, I worried over their infant cries that seemed unending, sniffles and fevers, and later, times they suffered more serious illnesses.  I worried over job interviews, then about job-related challenges.  But those “everyday” worries felt trivial when my father diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, my mother began to suffer from Alzheimer’s, when my daughter suffered a miscarriage or, a few years later, a cardiologist told me I had heart failure.

This past weekend, however,  my worry was focused on my granddaughter.  She ran down the hallway in excitement and startled our small dog, bursting into tears when Maggie responded with her only defense–a loud, shrill bark.  Flora’s excitement turned to embarrassment and a desire to cut her morning play short.  She left, eyes still red from crying, with her mother a few minutes later.  I worried that her recent fear of dogs was going to be re-ignited for little more than a terrier’s startled response to her. That night,  as I replayed the little upset and realized I was, again, working myself up to worrying, the lyrics from a B.B. King Blues song began an endless loop in my head:

Worry worry worry

Worry is all I can do

Oh worry worry worry baby

Worry is all I can do…

Worrying is that state of feeling concerned or uneasy about some situation in your life.  While most of us experience a little worry or anxiety over things like an exam or a job interview,  a little worry can be helpful, actually helping you prepare for an upcoming situation.   Many years ago, I was involved in a community theater group, and learned, thanks to the wisdom of our director, that a little anxiety pre-performance actually energized our performance.  But excessive worrying has the opposite effect.  When it gets the better of you, like the long restless nights you cannot seem to banish worry to a dark corner, your body and mind goes into high gear.  You leap beyond what is to what might happen, and as your worry expands, so do your anxieties.  Excessive or chronic worrying can have negative emotional and physical impacts, interfering with your appetite, sleep, relationships, even job performance.

I worried a lot…

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,

can I do better?

…Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,

am I going to get rheumatism,

lockjaw, dementia?

(from “I Worried,” by Mary Oliver, Swan: Poems & Prose Poems, 2012)

Excessive worrying is one symptom of stress and anxiety, whether induced by a cancer diagnosis or some other upsetting event. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, some worry and anxiety is a common response to a cancer diagnosis and typically greatest while waiting for test results, at the time of diagnosis or waiting for treatment to begin.  But as anxiety increases, it may result in excessive worrying as well as a number of physical symptoms such as:

  • muscle tension
  • restlessness
  • fast heartbeat, trembling, shortness of breath, chest tightness, nausea, dizziness or high blood pressure
  • tiredness or exhaustion
  • trouble concentrating
  • irritability
  • impatience
  • trouble sleeping or getting too much sleep

 

Sleep can be lost as

easily as a house key…

— From “No Worry,” by Cole Swenson, In: New Math, © 1988

In a 2001 study published by Psycho-Oncology, researchers investigated the effect of “cancer-specific worries” or “cancer-specific stress” in women considered high-risk for developing breast cancer.  The results confirmed what prior studies had concluded:   “cancer-specific” worries and the resulting anxiety interfered with the quality of the women’s daily lives.

Chronic worrying, according to Web MD, can have negative impact on anyone’s daily life, not just those at risk for breast cancer.  Chronic worry and stress, as you know, is harmful to your health and may have even more serious consequences, including immune system suppression, digestive disorders, and coronary disease.  So how can you keep your worries and anxiety from spinning out of control?

Here are some practical and manageable options:

  • Talk to your doctor.
  • Seek help from a therapist.
  • Exercise daily.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet
  • Drink caffeine in moderation.
  • Be conscious of your worries!  (Set aside 15 minutes a day to focus on your problems and fears—then let them go after your 15 minutes is up.  It’s a way to remind yourself not to dwell on your worries.)
  • Practice relaxation techniques.
  • Meditate.
  • Enjoy the company of family and friends.

As for the worry I had over my granddaughter’s tearful response to the dog on Saturday morning, I wrote about it the next morning, a habit I have for clearing away the static of daily life.   Writing is, even with little worries, often a useful way to vanquish any budding or exaggerated worry and make sense out of my sometimes chaotic or noisy thoughts, find my way into insight and understanding–even self-deprecating humor–making my little worries vanish or become more manageable.   I suppose it’s why I smiled as I re-read the final stanza of Mary Oliver’s poem, “I Worried.”

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.

And gave it up.  And took my old body

and went out into the morning,

and sang.

Writing Suggestions

  • “Worry, worry, worry…”  What do you worry most about?  What are the triggers that incite your worrying?
  • Describe how you felt when you first were diagnosed with cancer.  How would you describe the worry that you felt?  What, ultimately, most helped you manage your anxiety?
  • What helps you manage those ordinary life events that may trigger your worry?  How do you keep from worry overtaking your life?

About Sharon A. Bray, EdD

Best known for her innovative work with cancer patients and survivors, Sharon is a writer, educator and author of two books on the benefits of expressive writing during cancer as well as personal essays, a children's book, magazine articles and the occasional poetry. She designed and initiated expressive writing programs at several major cancer centers, including Breast Cancer Connections, Stanford Cancer Center, Scripps Green Cancer Center and Moores UCSD Cancer Center. She continues to lead expressive writing groups for men and women living in the San Diego area and teach creative writing workshops and classes privately for UCLA extension Writers' Program. She previously taught professional development courses in therapeutic writing at Santa Clara University and the Pacific School of Religion, was a faculty member of the CURE Magazine Forums and at the Omega Institute in 2014. Sharon earned her doctorate from the University of Toronto and studied creative and transformative writing at Humber School for Writers, University of Washington, and Goddard College.
This entry was posted in expressive writing, reflections on life, writing from cancer and serious illness, writing to heal. Bookmark the permalink.

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