I was an anxious child and an anxious teenager. After I graduated high school, I made a conscious choice not to worry. I distinctly remember saying to myself, “Enough worrying. I’m sick of it. You’re going to college. Relax and have a good time.” And I did. I didn’t worry about my grades (a big worry in high school even though my grades were great) or my social life, or anything, for that matter. I didn’t slack off; I just didn’t worry. It’s amazing, now that I think of it. How is it that I could stop worrying so easily?
My worrying and anxiety came back with a vengeance after going through a tragedy and learning a tough lesson. Bad things, horrible things, really do happen randomly, for no obvious reasons. The world is a dangerous place where things can go wrong, and so much is out of our control. And of course at that point I didn’t just worry about myself. I was fortunate to have so many people in my life whom I loved dearly, but that only led to more worry.
I worried constantly about my children, my husband, my entire family and my friends. So much stuff and so many people to worry about! When there was a lull in the action, when there were no pressing concerns, I worried that there was nothing to worry about. Seriously. I’d get an unsettled feeling and would actually search for things to agonize over. It’s what my brain had become used to; what it craved. And it was easy to do — worry was never far away.
Blogging about OCD and learning more about anxiety and neuroplasticity have helped me through my own journey with anxiety. Over the past several years I have again chosen not to worry. It hasn’t been as easy to follow through with this decision as it was when I was in college, but I’m trying, and more often than not, I have success. It’s not easy; in fact it’s a lot of hard work, but the payoff is huge.
Now I’m not for a minute suggesting that those with obsessive-compulsive disorder can just decide not to worry. I don’t have OCD, and I know it is likely that the severity of the worst anxiety I have ever felt might be nowhere near what OCD sufferers experience routinely. What I am saying is it is possible, for all of us, to change the way we think. If I can do it, others can too.
Some people can do it on their own, and others might need professional help. For those with OCD, the best thing they can do for themselves is to connect with an OCD specialist who is experienced with exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. This type of cognitive-behavioral therapy will help retrain their brains. It’s not easy; in fact, it can be extremely difficult. But the hard work is so worth it and the payoff is huge: less worry, more time to actually enjoy life, and perhaps most important — freedom from OCD.