Youth Blog: Neurology of Worry: Breaking the Cycle

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This blog post is by Salma Sheikh, a member of OSBHA Student Health Advocates

Neurology of Worry: Breaking the Cycle



Why is it that we worry so much? Even though we know that worrying may be detrimental to our health or to us achieving our goals, we still worry because let’s face it—sometimes there’s a lot to worry about. There’s a tiny mass of grey matter about the size of almond inside each cerebral hemisphere (humans normally have two amygdalae each); these little nerve centers are involved with the experiencing of emotions. The amygdaloid is part of the limbic system within the brain, which is responsible for emotions, survival instincts, detecting fear and preparing for emergency events, and memory. Being worried helps humans prepare for events that might threaten us. But as life has become more and more complicated, there are more and more things to be worried about and in our worries, we bog ourselves down in cycles of anxiety that then further prevent us from living healthily and achieving our goals. But there are things that we can address our worries and reduce our stress and in doing so, becoming stronger, healthier versions of ourselves. 
1. Size of the problem:
“There are more things likely to frighten us than are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality.” Seneca- Letters from a Stoic Stress and anxiety activate the amygdala, people, especially teens have a tendency to upsurge the problem, meaning you tend to feel as if what you are going through is life-threatening when in actuality it isn’t. You tend to make things that are actually trivial things big things. Evaluate the situation you're in before freaking out. Worrying about situations you're in and seeing them a life-threatening can really take an emotional toll so take a deep breath, take a step back, analyze the big picture and try to take it all one step.“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.”- Eckart Tolle

2. Self-realization:
Self-realization is "fulfillment by oneself of the possibilities of one's character or personality" This means being fulfilled with yourselves as you are and your potential, meaning the person you are becoming. It is important to have a strong sense of self; i.e meaning knowing how wonderful you are and the assurance and belief in yourself. Understanding that there is a problem, being aware is already the first step. It is also important to understand that change doesn’t happen overnight so you must learn to forgive yourself for the mistakes you’ve made and learn how to build a better future SLOWLY and trying to integrate changes over time. Don’t set yourself up for defeat by trying to make big changes happen right away. Also don’t compare yourself to others, walk your own path because it’s hard to focus on yourself, prioritize yourself and love yourself when you're comparing yourself to others.

3. Mindfulness:
Mindfulness is self-awareness. It is learning to be in the present. Being self-aware and present is crucial to cultivating the now. You can learn to do this with three main steps. One is that small changes lead to big results which are explained by “When we think about progress, we often imagine how good it feels to achieve a long term goal or experience a major breakthrough. These big wins are great —but they are relatively rare. The good news is that even small wins can boost inner work life tremendously.” This means that although we imagine big changes or breakthroughs and how they will feel --they aren’t common. We can learn to appreciate the small wins that can lead us to self-awareness and learning to be present. Another step is making time for what you know will now make you more present. Whether this be journaling or a facemask or exercise, you should make time to do this thing, even when you feel you don’t have time. Lastly, letting go of attachments to the past and the future. Focusing on being present and focusing on the now is paramount, and to do so, and we cannot dwell on or obsess about the past or the future. Being so caught up in the past or things we need to do in the future can paralyze us with fear leading us to not be able to focus, prioritize and cultivate the now. 

4. Cultivating an Outlet
In times of worry or stress, it's important to create an outlet to try to let go of mixed-up feelings. Some great examples are journaling and talking to someone that understands what you're feeling and going through. These are alternative ways to deal with these feelings instead of reaching a point of having a breakdown. Also, it's ok to take a break when feeling overly stressed or burned out, as you need to be able to rejuvenate and let go of it all. When you're in fight or flight mode, you need to try and release all that excess energy in positive and helpful ways. It also helps to get out of your head and focus on something separate from yourself and what you’re stressing and worrying about. 

5. Gratefulness
When feeling stressed or worried, one thing to keep in mind is to try to be grateful. Even when times are rough and you don’t think that there’s a lot to be grateful for, it's important to see all that you have and appreciate and be thankful for it. Once you are able to be thankful for all that you have, you can learn to look beyond what is making you stress and worry. 
The fact is that even when you feel like you are in the depths of despair there are STILL things you can appreciate. You can still be grateful every single day that you’re still breathing, that you’re alive. “ In our daily lives, we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but the gratefulness that makes us happy.” - Albert Clarke 

6. Choosing the People in your solar system
Creating a metaphorical solar system can also help, as it will act as a support system to help uplift you. In this system, you are the sun and all the planets revolve around you. The planets are the friends who care about you: people who cheer you on, who bring joy to you, who build you up to strengthen you, these are the people who should remain in your orbit. They bring tranquility, harmony, and balance to your universe. People who are negative towards you, consistently putting you down, drain your energy: are the black holes, you should remove these black holes and the space trash from your universe so your solar system is in balance, full of positive energy and shining with bright light. You are essentially the outcome of your closest friends, so choose your friends wisely. You are the sun of your solar system and you shine bright, do not let anyone dim your brightness. 

What you need to understand is that; in general, life is difficult and full of nerve-racking moments but that doesn’t mean you should give up. Life may be packed with hardship but you CAN overcome it. Your resilience, the strength of your support solar system, your conscious effort to be content will lead you to live a balanced, positive, healthy life.
“Inner peace is accomplished by understanding and accepting the inevitable contradictions of life -- the pain and the pleasure, success, and failures, joy and sorrow, births and deaths, problems can teach us to be gracious, humble and patient.”
 Richard Carlson- Don’t sweat the small stuff.

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