If worrying were a sport, I’d totally make the U.S. Olympic team. It’s an annoying talent to have, but a lifetime of practice means I’m pretty much a champion at sustaining stress.
Examples from my life abound. I was almost completely silent—like, I didn’t talk to anyone—for two straight weeks leading up to cheerleading tryouts one year in high school (and I ended up making the advanced team). I convinced myself countless times as a student that I’d failed an exam (and then would find out I’d aced it, like all the others). I broke out in hives under the pressure I put on myself to perform perfectly at work (and got promoted due to high achievement). You get the picture.
At first glance, it would seem all this worrying is serving me well—look at what I’ve accomplished, right? But am I successful because I stress so much? I don’t think so. I think my success is a result of natural abilities, sure, but certainly worrying isn’t one of them. I believe I’d be more successful, in fact, if I could eliminate the agony. I could clear out some mental space, free up some energy and effort, and reallocate emotion.
I must control the stress. I’m starting with my most unworthy stressors.
When life gets tough—and my knack for stressing means life feels tough to me more often than not—my brain automatically sets a fat loss goal. It happens without me realizing it, and it’s a problem I’ve struggled with for years. In an attempt to control the chaos that is my life, my mind searches for something—anything—it can lay down the law to, and it’s invariably the size and shape of my body.
I become obsessed with getting leaner and sculpting my muscles. The goal consumes my thoughts, and I spend way too much time looking in the mirror or feeling bummed that my abs aren’t showing as much as they could or whatever—time that could be much better spent. All the focus on my body leads to two additional worthless stressors…
Calorie counting, for me, can be both positive and negative. When all is well in other areas of life, I tally a day’s intake infrequently (maybe once or twice a week) and keep it to a very rough estimate. In this way, I use the practice more for observation purposes to get a sense of my eating habits for overall health, and I look over the data objectively.
It gets troublesome, though, when I start religiously tracking daily and freaking out over numbers my self-imposed diet rules indicate are too high, which happens when my worrying habits start blending in to my health-conscious habits. When this occurs, I start “hacking” my intake and restricting unnecessarily. I begin treating my body like a machine with no intel, instead of an organism with built-in survival protocols.
Sometimes, my mind’s eye can “see” the effects of one missed workout on my body, and my mood tanks with the imaginary regression of progress. I don’t make it to the gym one day, and suddenly I suck at life—and my thighs are jiggling more.
This is impossible and absurd. Of course I know this. But when my brain is inextricably linked to fat loss aspirations, my mood and worldview depend on what I did (or didn’t) do that day to move closer toward my goal, which obviously includes exercise efforts. As such, I look in the mirror on a gym-less day and believe I’m seeing a less in-shape person than the day before, and I sulk around until my next workout.
How I’m Quitting
To cease the madness, I’m proving myself wrong and calling myself out. My personality type is one which is not easily swayed, even when it comes to my own unfounded beliefs. My mind can be changed, however, when my assumptions are artfully challenged and I’m presented with solid evidence to the contrary. It’s me against me, you guys. (And I’m pretty sure I’m going to win!!!)
Since I’ve already figured out why I’m stressing over this nonsense and what intensifies the fretting, which is where I’d advise myself to begin, my first task is to identify the facts. I’ll give it a shot right here:
My life is not better if my thighs are smaller. Why do I expend energy even thinking about this? That’s not the kind of person I want to be. I cannot do amazing work or be an amazing friend or relative when I’m distracted by something as stupid and meaningless as the appearance of my lower body.
Regarding calories, sometimes I just need more food, and my body is much better at knowing how much is enough than I am. Extra calories do not necessarily lead to extra pounds. There are so many goings-on in the human body that I don’t understand that require fuel; why would I think I can pick some arbitrary number as a hard and fast rule? Guidelines are fine; uncompromising specifics are dangerous.
And with exercise, I could skip out for two straight weeks (at least) and look the same. I’d tell any of you worrying about a lack of activity that and genuinely mean it because I know it’s true. I just need to apply the knowledge to my own situation.
So, with facts outlined, the next step is committing to interrupting the cycle of ruminating on false thoughts every time I notice them. “That’s a whole lot of bullshit you’re thinking to yourself there, Cassie,” is what I’ll say. Or something like that. Then, I’ll go back and review the facts. I’m replacing the shit-filled cycle with a logic-filled one.
I’m excited to implement this strategy, to stop the senseless worrying, and to make room for much more important objectives. I’m getting started right away…but I definitely won’t stress out about it.
Cassie Nolan is the blogger behind Alternative Badassery, “A creative guide to being good at life,” where she covers career, writing, and health topics. She also regularly disseminates awesome on Facebook and Twitter.
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