Quieting the Worry Machine

By Lori Welch Brown

I don’t know about y’all, but in 2020, unbeknownst to me, I upgraded my internal worry machine to a sleek new turbo model.  What a monster machine! It came with auto shut off, but it pretty much ran 24/7 and revved up with the slightest amount of fuel. One little thought, and it’s off to the races.

The problem is that it’s extremely loud. The noise and vibrations tune out everything else. All I could hear was its constant hum, “Worry, worry, stress, stress. Worry, worry, stress, stress.” It kept me up at night, left me feeling lethargic during the day, and virtually robbed me of any joy. To make matters worse, the worry machine conveniently has a limitless setting for “Other People.” Yep. You can totally ramp it up to envision bad life scenarios for everyone you care about whether it’s during an important meeting or at 3:00 a.m.

It had to be unplugged.

Turning off the worry machine is not easy—especially if you happen to be an over-achieving control freak. (Speaking for a friend). For things out of your control, like let’s say a pandemic, it’s tough to fathom how you’ll get out alive. Throw in an elderly yet-to-be vaccinated parent, home schooling kids, a family member with an anxiety problem, and a soaring weekly wine bill, and your worry machine will automatically click into overdrive. When your worry machine is in over-drive mode, it’s tough to do much of anything let alone turn it off.

But—a little trick—you can slowly begin to quiet it. I started with some baby steps. First, I committed to a 15 minute morning meditation.  You can start with five—start where you are. I allowed myself to sit comfortably just observing my thoughts without opinion, judgement or even acceptance. Merely just observing them. When my mind felt particularly busy/anxious, I threw in a mantra like “Let go, let God,” to keep my worry machine from interrupting.

Next, I started monitoring what I was putting in my body of the non-food variety, aka social media, the news, TV programs that were fueling my anxiety. Instead of binge-watching suspenseful dramas, I gravitated towards light, happy comedies like Schitt’s Creek and The Good Place.

Note: Turbo-charged worry machines often come with a caloric dual intake valve that requires constant feeding—mostly salty carbs and sugary baked goods. It also runs on high alcohol fuel. Feeding it a diet of all three can be dangerous and should come with a warning label.

Comfort foods are good in moderation, i.e., like that day you didn’t get the promotion, but not a good long-term strategy for getting through a year-long pandemic. Trust me—I tried that strategy for nine months and all it got me was more lethargy and a bunch of new elastic-waist pants. Note—COVID did not eradicate swim suit season and or jeans. At some point, we’ll have to get back in them so time to rein it in.

When your overall energy is in the tank thanks to your worry machine, it’s easy to let self-negativity slip in. Doing something positive is the best defense. I signed up for the weight-loss, healthy mindset app, Noom, to help give me the boost I needed to back away from the fridge and the bakery aisle at Wegmans. I’m only a couple of weeks in, but it’s helping.

One day I woke up to the sound of my worry machine and realized I hadn’t experienced any real joy in what felt like weeks.   I had been grinding away at filling out insurance forms and paperwork since Dad died back in December. I was sad, angry, and not allowing myself to come up for air. I was worried about everything and everyone under the sun. It was time for a change. I needed some play time so I put it on the calendar: PAINT.

“The opposite of play is not work—the opposite of play is depression.” — Brian Sutton Smith

Play is that thing you lose yourself in, where all constructs of time disappear. For me,  that is playing with my art supplies; letting myself be a kid; painting, drawing, and cutting things out. When I put on that art smock, I’m five years old. If the bills need to be paid or the dishes need to be washed, those worries get transferred over to the adult department where I am clearly not a member so…..nanny nanny boo boo stick your head in doo doo.

Here’s the other thing. I consider myself a very spiritual person. I love going to church with all the rituals, singing and sense of community, but I don’t do it on the reg. In my personal belief system, God is everywhere, but that damn worry machine started to drown even God out. The worry machine caused me to forget that I’m not in charge and that I don’t need to worry.  Once I remembered my faith, the worry machine started to lose power. After Dad died, one of his dear friends sent me a book of daily devotions. That little book – Streams in the Desert – has been such a gift.  I start each day with a passage filled with hope and inspiration. Faith and hope cause the worry machine to short circuit.

Don’t laugh, but the other thing that has helped stifle my worry machine is a deck of cards—Rumi’s oracle deck. Rumi was a 13th century poet and Sufi mystic whose words have become a spiritual band aid for my heavy heart. The deck includes a guidebook that offers a Rumi poem, a divine message and accompanying ritual for each card. Every morning as I enjoy my coffee, I ask for divine guidance as I select a beautifully illustrated card. Each day I have been provided a message that has felt personally inscribed for me—one that has touched my soul and lifted my spirits—and most importantly, quieted my worry machine.

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