Episode #22: The Worry Journal

Music, “This is My Life” courtesy of Irene Boggs affirmajams.com/

Hi and Welcome to the Dream Big & Bloom podcast for women over 60 who want to be happy, rich and free.

I’m Mardi Lynn, certified DreamBuilder Coach and I help women over 60, who are disappointed and frustrated because this season of their lives is disappointing.  They’re tempted to settle for just good enough but there’s a deep longing within them for more freedom, fulfillment and fun. I teach them how to honor their discontent, dream big and create lives they absolutely love.

A common issue for the women I work with is worry about their futures — worries about aging, about their health, about being alone, about running out of money, about relationships with grown children, about what they’re leaving as a legacy, and more. And now there is even more worrying being generated by politics and the pandemic.

So today, I’m talking about worry and how to change your perspective so you can feel better. This is really important because, not only will fear prevent you from achieving your dreams, but it shortens your life and adversely affects your relationships.  Some of you may be experiencing these effects now.

Stress releases hormones that rev up the body to fight, flee or freeze and if we are in that state too often it not only saps our energy, but it can compromise our immune system and cause serious health issues like high blood pressure and heart disease.  

Worry can also cause lack of sleep and make us cranky, which, of course, can negatively affect our personal relationships.

So it’s really important to learn how to stop worrying and I’m going to give you some tips for doing just that.

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Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

How Your Brain Works

First, it’s important to understand that there is a primitive part of our brain that is always looking for potential danger so we will be prepared to protect ourselves from being eaten by a saber tooth tiger or other hazard to our survival.  It’s not entirely a bad thing, but the reality is that we are not likely to be eaten by a saber toothed tiger these days.

Our mind is also capable of creating vivid scenarios of things that might happen in the future, like financial disasters, or illnesses, or conflicts with other people.  It’s like dream building in reverse — creating a vivid, emotion laden vision of what we don’t want.  (For details about the visioning process and how to do it, see Episode #9 of my 3 part workshop

And because of the Law of Attraction and Quantum Physics, we actually create what we focus on, so you definitely do NOT want to be involved in Negative DreamBuilding!

And, although most people don’t truly believe in The Law of Attraction or understand Quantum Physics, the reality is that your thinking can actually create the very thing you want to prevent! So it’s definitely worth the effort to change our unconscious, habitual thinking patterns.

Proof That Most Worries Never Come True

Second, it’s important to realize that most of our worries never come true.  There are scientific studies that document this and today I’m going to tell you about one that blew my mind.

In 2019, LaFreniere & Newman did a study in which they taught 29 undergraduate students how to use worry journals and then they analyzed the results to determine how many of their worries actually came true over the course of three weeks.

The participants weren’t formally diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, but all met the full criteria for Generalized Anxiety Disorder as determined by a screening tool known as the GAD-Q-IV  

This screening tool isn’t used to diagnose, but just to give people a sense of how serious their symptoms might be, and whether they may want to consult with someone about this further.

Here’s a link to the screening tool  in case you want to try it for yourself.  https://adaa.org/sites/default/files/GAD-screeningtool%20(1).doc

anxious woman having phone conversation in office
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What is GAD or Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

So what is GAD or Generalized Anxiety Disorder?  I found this information on the website of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, (ADAA).

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by persistent and excessive worry about a number of different things. 

People with GAD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, may anticipate disaster and may be overly concerned about money, health, family, work, or other issues. 

Individuals with GAD find it difficult to control their worry. They may worry more than seems warranted about actual events or may expect the worst even when there is no apparent reason for concern.

A person is diagnosed as having GAD when s/he finds it difficult to control worry on more days than not for at least six months and has three or more symptoms. Which are

  1. Feeling nervous, irritable, or on edge
  2. Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
  3. Having an increased heart rate
  4. Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation), sweating, and/or trembling
  5. Feeling weak or tired
  6. Difficulty concentrating
  7. Having trouble sleeping
  8. Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems

This differentiates GAD from worry that may be specific to a specific stressor or worry for a more limited period of time.

Are You Surprised?

I was actually surprised to learn that GAD affects 6.8 million adults, or only 3.1% of the U.S. population, in any given year.  

I expected it to be a larger number but that’s because I didn’t understand the actual criteria used for diagnosis.

Those numbers represent people who have “persistent” anxiety and not, what I imagine are large numbers of people with less “persistent” anxiety who are suffering and not living a happy life.   

I was not surprised to learn that women are TWICE as likely to be affected as men.  Does that surprise you? 

Why do you think that’s the case?  

I think it’s because most women don’t feel empowered.  Historically they have needed protection, due to harsh living conditions, being vulnerable to the risks of childbirth and the demands of raising children. That’s changing now, but the women’s primal need for for safety and security hasn’t changed and many of them are single now and not well equipped to support themselves.  

This is the reason I’m so passionate about teaching and coaching women in Using the DreamBuilder System. 

The information from the ADAA website (the Anxiety and Depression Association of America) goes on to say that the disorder comes on gradually and can begin across the life cycle, though the risk is highest between childhood and middle age. Although the exact cause of GAD is unknown, there is evidence that biological factors, family background, and life experiences, particularly stressful ones, play a role.  

This is what in the DreamBuilder Program we call our paradigms – those patterns of thinking and acting that are formed by reactions to our upbringing and life experiences.  

We re-pattern our paradigms by “noticing what we’re noticing” and choosing what we’d love instead.

The article continues to say that, Sometimes just the thought of getting through the day produces anxiety. People with GAD don’t know how to stop the worry cycle and feel it is beyond their control, even though they usually realize that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants. 

All anxiety disorders may relate to a difficulty tolerating uncertainty and therefore many people with GAD try to plan or control situations.  

The ADDA article goes on to say that many people believe worry prevents bad things from happening so they view it is risky to give up worry.  

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Do People Really Believe This?

I found this statement astonishing! That’s so illogical isn’t it?  Do people really believe that worry prevents bad things from happening?   

I think the real issue here is that the primitive part of our brain that I mentioned before, is on automatic pilot, and “yanking our chain.”   

The logical part of our brain knows that worry doesn’t prevent things from happening.  The logical part of our brain is capable of devising solutions to prevent things from happening or for dealing with things that we can’t control. On a logical level, we know that, worry, of itself, doesn’t prevent bad things from happening but we have to consciously engage the logical prefrontal cortex of our brain.

The article goes on to says that, At times, people can struggle with physical symptoms such as stomachaches and headaches.

I would say, based on what we know about the mind/body connection, that most stomachs and headaches are caused by worry.

Finally the report says that When their anxiety level is mild to moderate or with treatment, people with GAD can function socially, have full and meaningful lives, and be gainfully employed. 

Well that is good news. And I’m thinking that if it’s possible for people with full blown GAD, it’s certainly possible for everyone else.  But oh…! That description, “function socially” and “be gainfully employed”!!!

Don’t Settle!

I hope you won’t settle for just “functioning” or being “gainfully employed.” I’d love for you to be thriving, not just functioning and to be passionate and fulfilled, not just gainfully employed. 

Many with GAD may avoid situations because they have the disorder or they may not take advantage of opportunities due to their worry (social situations, travel, promotions, etc). 

Is this ever the case for you?  I think many of us without full blown GAD do this at least occasionally.

Some people can have difficulty carrying out the simplest daily activities when their anxiety is severe.  

If this is the case for you, I urge you to get professional help and not suffer.

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Photo by Jessica Lewis on Pexels.com

The Worry Journal

Now for the interesting results of the study and the worry journals.

After being accepted into the study, participants came to the lab, and were trained in a particular psychological strategy for managing worries known as the Worry Outcome Journal.  It involves writing down your worries, and tracking them, to see how many actually come true.

I found a copy for you on https://www.researchgate.net/ so you can try it. 

The rationale is that, as you pay attention to how upsetting, disrupting, and costly your worries are, and as you see clear evidence in your life that the things you worry about actually do not happen, you will recognize the uselessness of worrying and begin to engage in it less. And without these anxious thoughts in your life, your anxiety should also lessen.

So for 10 days, the participants recorded their worries, anytime they felt like it, but the minimum was 4 times a day, when they were prompted by a text message (once between 8am-noon, again between noon-3pm, between 3-6pm, and one last time between 6-9pm).  You can set a timer on your smartphone.

They specifically recorded:

  1. The worry itself (defined as a specific, testable, anxiety-inducing prediction about the future)
  2. The degree of distress this was causing them, from 1=no distress to 7=severe distress
  3. How much space the worry was taking up. By answering the question “How much time did that worry take up since I first had the worry?”
  4. And finally, two estimates of the likelihood of that particular worry coming true.
    1. One estimate being based on their “gut feelings or intuition” – i.e. the “emotional likelihood” of the worry coming true. 
    2. And the other estimate being the “logical likelihood” of the worry, which the participants arrived at by answering the question “If the most rational person in the world were to give a probability as to how likely this event would come true, what would it be?

Every evening, they reported if any worries had come true, and if so, whether the outcome was “as bad as, worse than, or better than expected.”

A day after logging their last worry, the participants completed the GAD-Q-IV once more to see if there were any changes to their anxiety over the course of the past 10 days.

And on the 30th day of the study, 20 days after their final day of worry journaling, participants were asked to review each of their logged worries, and note if any of them had come true. And if so, whether they were as bad as, worse than, or better than expected. 

The Results

So…how many of their worries actually came true?

On average, 91.39% of participants’ worries did NOT come true (i.e. only 8.61% of their worries DID come true). AND FOR 7 PARTICIPANTS – OR ABOUT ONE OUT OF EVERY FOUR PARTICIPANTS – NONE OF THEIR WORRIES CAME TRUE.

IT’S ALSO WORTH NOTING THAT FOR THE FEW WORRIES THAT DID COME TRUE, PARTICIPANTS RATED ABOUT A THIRD OF THEM AS HAVING TURNED OUT BETTER THAN EXPECTED.

Using Their Gut Feeling

Thus, participants were not very good at predicting the likelihood of worries coming true. When they tuned in to their gut feeling about things (emotional probability), their average estimate was 62.09% (vs. the actual likelihood of 8.6%). 

Using Logical Thinking

Even when trying to think more logically, their probability estimate was still pretty inflated, at 41.67% (vs. 8.6%).

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The Good News

So isn’t’ that great news!  

You may not be on this extreme end of the worry spectrum but even those who are, are able to improve with just awareness.

Practices like keeping a worry journal can create better results than just education.  It’s been said that “education without action is simply entertainment.”

To be clear, life coaching is not a substitute for psychotherapy and if you suspect that you have GAD, you would be well-advised to work with a Psychotherapist.  However, many psychotherapists do approve of clients working with life coaches on their goals for moving forward. 

What Do You Think?

Does knowing this change anything for you?  

Are you going to try the Worry Journal?

I’d love to read comments or questions from you below. And I WILL respond.

If you have a burning question or topic you’d like me to address on a future episode let me know in the comments.

If you’d like to be a guest on the podcast and receive coaching, or share a success story that will encourage others, click on the link below.

And, if you are ready to get in-depth personalized support for overcoming your challenges and creating a life you would absolutely love, apply for my DreamBuilder coaching program where we take all the things I talk about here and apply them to you and your life.  Just imagine you and me together every week for 12 weeks laser focused on how to feel happy and fulfilled and create your dream life.  By the end of our work together you will have all the tools and practices so that no matter what happens in your life, you can have fulfillment, freedom, and fun. 

You can get all the details about the program and book a complementary strategy session to get my eyes on your vision statement and show you the best next step you can take to move you forward.

As You Go Remember:

  1. You are capable of far more than you know 
  2. You were created to have an amazing and fulfilling life. It’s your birthright.
  3. You DON’T HAVE TO SETTLE for just “good enough”
  4. You are more powerful than any circumstance, situation or condition
  5. You absolutely can create the life of your dreams.

And I’m here to show you how.

So Dream big, follow your heart and live with all the joy, purpose, prosperity and fulfillment you so richly deserve.

Bye for now!

Here are the next steps you can take:

  1. Join the conversation in the comments and and post any questions you may have.
  2. Listen to my other podcasts, especially #7, 8 & 9
  3. Be a guest on the show and get free coaching or share a success story.
  4. Get the full DreamBuilder Program with coaching support
  5. Book a complimentary Discovery Session on my calendar. We’ll get clarity on exactly where you are now, where you would love to be, and the best next step you can take to move you forward.

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