I have not seen the movie Bridge of Spies, but recently a patient told me about the film because it contains one of the greatest quotes of all times, “Would it help?”  You may be asking, “What’s so great about that?”  Well, this query seemed to be the cure for my patient’s struggle with anxiety because the question brought logic back to the illogic his anxiety feasted upon.  “Would it help?” became a powerful response Soviet spy Rudolf Abel gave each time his attorney asked him such a question as, “Aren’t you worried?”  Abel simply and sincerely countered, “Would it help?”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yylz3pHE5Vc  (clip of scene)

In all honesty, how can one say, “Yes! Of course! Worrying and fretting over things I have absolutely no control over helps me all the time!”  Really?  How?  By wearing you down and draining you of all energy and hope for a solution?  By causing you to be so consumed by the mental gymnastics being played out in your brain that you miss out on a funny joke someone just shared or by keeping you fitfully awake all night?  By making you miss work, school, or some other obligation because your stomach was so tied up in knots you thought you might get sick if you left your house?  How are these things helpful?

Anxiety can be a powerful and overwhelming experience.  It manifests differently for different people but common signs and symptoms include:

 

  • excessive worry and ruminations about multiple things
  • being unable to stop or control those worries
  • feeling as if you cannot turn off your mind or stop thinking
  • insomnia
  • irritability
  • feeling tense and on edge
  • fear that something awful is going to happen
  • poor concentration and forgetfulness

 

Physical symptoms can include:

 

  • muscle tension, aches and pains
  • stomach upset like nausea, indigestion, diarrhea, or “butterflies”
  • frequent headaches
  • hives and itching
  • heart palpitations
  • shortness of breath or feeling like you cannot get enough air when you breathe
  • shakiness
  • dizziness or lightheadedness

These symptoms can be chronic and insidious, leading us to believe that this is just how it is or they can be acute, intense and short-lived, over and over again.  These symptoms can lead to major impairments in our ability to work, to maintain healthy relationships and a generally good quality of life.  These symptoms can make it impossible to think clearly and rationally, sometimes leading to distrust and even paranoia.  This is why people who are stricken by the extremes of anxiety seek some sort of relief whether the means to that relief is healthy or not so healthy.  To put it simply, anxiety can wreak havoc on one’s life.   The thing is…it does not have to.

Anxiety is a normal human experience.  It is an incredibly useful emotion.  It tells us that something important needs your attention.  Anxiety can motivate us to study for a test or prepare for a meeting.  Anxiety can motivate us to make a tough decision or change something that needs to be different in our life.  Anxiety might inform us to be cautious about a certain situation.  Anxiety only becomes abnormal when we give it more power that it deserves, when we allow it to not be helpful.

Those signs and symptoms I mentioned earlier, those are the indicators that you have given anxiety too much power and the emotion is no longer useful.  It is at this point that you need to take a step back and ask yourself, “Would it help?”  To worry or be anxious, that is.  Would it help?  Be honest.  I know you perfectionists out there believe if you stopped worrying you would stop caring and no longer perform to your exceptional standards.  Do not be fooled by this, this is a false belief!

I challenge you to make this your mantra.  Whenever you catch yourself revving up, ask yourself, “Would it help?”  Seriously, would it help?