Most of us worry at times. Will I have enough money to cover a big expense? Will I pass this test? What if he doesn’t like me? What if I don’t get the job? What if what if what if?
I can’t count the number of sleepless nights I’ve brought upon myself! In hindsight, it’s so silly to get worked up over things that have not yet happened – and will likely never happen!
When our thoughts give way to negativity and worst-case scenarios, we allow that gloomy energy to amplify anxiety and unease – and we allow it to ruin otherwise happy times. Can you remember a day or event that was clouded or even ruined by worry?
Worrying is imagining the worst outcome. Why do we do this?
A sane person wouldn’t daydream about nightmares, would they? So why is it human nature to occasionally conjure up – and then dwell on – the worst possible outcome of a situation? Could worry ever be beneficial? Well, if Knowledge is power, then maybe, yes. For example, if I’m waiting for important medical test results, I might choose to worry, so that my mind can come up with a plan of action, should the worst-case results arrive. By worrying – and then finding an answer or making a plan – I’m able to feel some relief, relax a bit and move on. My level or sense of worry has lessened – because I have thought through the worst-possible what if scenario – and I have some options in mind. The cycle of what if what if has been stopped and in this instance, my worry has (in a roundabout way) given me a sense of ease. But this instance is less common; more often than not, worry drags its big ugly bag of tricks along, slowing me down and making me feel tense, tired, and unhappy.
Physical manifestations of worry
Another reason to address our thinking habits… The physical effects of frequent worry can be very unpleasant, including:
- Skin issues, rashes
- Increased or decreased appetite
- Stomach upset/GI issues
- Shoulder, neck and upper back pain
- Sleep disturbances
- Suppression of immune system
These negative effects can worsen – and increase in frequency – until they can no longer be ignored. But you can turn that ship around and feel better. Mentally and physically!
Although it feels normal to worry can we choose not to?
Absolutely, the answer is yes. There are ways to limit worry’s control and minimize its damage. Four tactics include:
Being mindful is fairly simple. When adversity pops up and you catch yourself going down a rabbit hole of OMG what if what if thoughts, try to pause and take a breath. Observe your thoughts, in essence, Think about what you are thinking about. Recognize that while there may be a valid concern and justified reason to worry, you are OK. By becoming aware of your reactions, you can direct your mind to less-worrisome and less-stressful thoughts. Do your best to be in the moment. And as you practice mindfulness, it will become easier to guide your mind out of the hurricane of worry and into calmer waters.
Meditation is similar to mindfulness, but there is a difference. Mindfulness has been described as focusing on something, while meditation is described as focusing on nothing. Meditation is clearing the mind – and if possible, focusing only on being – as opposed to focusing on your surroundings, or on one thought, or thoughts. Meditation is an intentional focusing inward, for a set chunk of time. This tuning inward can bring a great sense of peace and relief to those saddled with a lot of worry. There are many wonderful free resources online to learn about meditation. If you find yourself feeling tired and stressed with frequent worry, consider giving meditation a try!
3. Write it down
The urgency of trying to solve a problem quickly can cause you to worry even more. Consider keeping a notepad and pen handy (there is power in writing things down by hand) and jot down your worries as they pop up. By doing so, you give yourself permission to stay in the moment – and deal with the worrisome issue at a later time. Resist the urge to stop everything and focus on the problem right then. If you write it down, you won’t forget. You can avoid veering off track in a heated moment – but instead, deal with the problem later. In fact, you may realize later that the worrisome issue isn’t so worrisome after all. Try the notepad method for a week or two. You may find that you don’t get as churned up with all the what if thoughts that pop up. If you write the concern down, the deliberate time delay takes some of the pressure off and allows you to address the situation later, at a time when you’re feeling calm and relaxed.
4. Can you control the situation?
Sometimes I get myself spun up over something I can’t possibly control. If I step back and acknowledge that my actions will have no effect on the outcome, regardless of what I do, sometimes I can back off the worry ledge. For me, that may mean taking a break from the news (which often is more bad news than good), skipping social media for a few days, or simply getting more fresh air outdoors. If I really have no control over the situation I’m worrying about, why not try to shift focus and let the worry go?
Worrywart? Who, me?
According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, a worrywart is a person who is inclined to worry unduly. Well, worry-wort no more! We can shake this worrisome nickname if we become aware of our mindset, thought patterns, and reactions. It’s unlikely that our lives will become completely worry-free. But with a little awareness and intention, we can certainly lessen the grip of worry and enjoy more happy times.
If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry.
If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever. The Dalai Lama