I want to worry less. Are you with me?!
This is me
The other day, I crossed a small group pre-schoolers walking outside with their teacher. They were taking a slow stroll along the sidewalk of a quiet street on a sunny morning. “Watch out,” cautioned the teacher. “Be careful,” she continued “you might trip and hurt yourself.”
What?! They can’t possibly hurt themselves, I thought to myself. The sidewalk was flat and unobstructed. The kids were taking a leisurely walk. Why is she bringing attention to the ‘danger’ or the slim risk of falling?
And, don’t I do this all the time to myself?
Not when I’m walking; but, I mean in life, generally.
I frequently consider what might go wrong and worry about things that are unlikely to happen. When I’m not vigilant, I grow committed to the possibility of failure, screw-ups, and disappointing outcomes.
What’s going on and why do I waste so much energy on worrying?
Each time we worry and nothing bad happens, our mind connects worry with preventing harm:
worry –> nothing bad happens.
And the take-away is, “It’s a good thing I worried.” (Gillihan, 2016)
We worry for many reasons, which include the belief that it motivates us, shows we care, and keeps us safe. These are, in theory, decent reasons. But, overall, worrying less is the goal.
Ways to worry less
I’ve been making progress in the worry domain. It’s not a straight line, but still a good solid improvement! The strategies outlined below are ones I use myself and also ones I encourage my coaching clients to practice and use.
- Say “STOP!” Sometimes, the only way to stop your mental worry is to command yourself to “stop”. I actually say it in my mind or whisper it ‘out loud’. This normally prompts me to breathe (more consciously) it creates a shift that allows for other, more helpful, thoughts.
- Determine if the worry is solvable and, if it is, take action. The action may involve brainstorming solutions or it may involve doing another activity that helps you feel more in control and provides you with a sense of accomplishment.
- Talk about it with someone you trust. Sometimes that person might can help you gain a different perspective by asking you great questions. Or, they may only listen and the act of verbalizing makes you feel better.
- Focus on the external world. This means shifting your attention from “this is how I’m feeling” to “how can I do something productive?” For me, that typically means focussing my energy on my teens or on someone else I care about.
And, here’s one I like but have never tried:
5. Set aside a time to worry (i.e., postpone worrying). This entails choosing a specific time during which you give yourself permission to worry. That period is bounded.
So, back to the little kids and their caregiver at the beginning of this post. The reason that scene struck me is that, as an outsider, the caregiver seemed to be creating stress (for herself and possibly the children) for “no apparent reason”. I do this way too often and in many different circumstances. Below are some resources that look further into why we worry and strategies for calming the brain. Practicing these strategies can help us maintain our emotional energy.
- How to Stop Worrying by HELPGUIDE.ORG. This well-written post presents self-help tips for anxiety relief. It starts by describing reasons people worry (i.e., ‘believing the way you feel reflects reality’, ‘all or nothing thinking’ ‘assuming responsibility for things that are outside of your control’) and then offers 5 strategies for how to stop worrying. Nice list of resources at the end.
- 5 Reasons We Worry, and 5 Ways to Worry Less by Dr. Gillihan (Psychology Today). I especially liked the section on ‘5 common beliefs about worry that compel us to keep doing it’.
“Worrying is like sitting in a rocking chair.
It gives you something to do but it doesn’t get you anywhere.”
- What strategies do you use to help stop the cycle of worry? In what ways are these effective? Are there other practices you wish to try that haven’t been part of your repertoire?
If you’re ready to redirect your worry energy to more productive things and want some coaching support to help you, contact me to learn more about working together.
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