I used to be a worrier. But as the uncertainties in my life have increased, the amount of worry has decreased.
I wish I could tell you that’s because I’ve learned to accept everything in my life – but I haven’t. What I have done is learned to better handle worry.
Here’s how to worry better (and consequently less):
1 | See worry for what it is.
I once heard a pastor say that anger is frozen fear. I think worry is frozen fear too. Once I distilled my own fear, I realized that I fear things I can’t control.
This is, of course, irrational. We can’t stop time or change. But even though I can intellectually understand this, it doesn’t stop my desire for control.
Instead I control what I can. When you get into a power struggle with a two-year-old over whether or not they can have a cookie, the crux of the issue is often not the cookie but control. The recommended advice is to offer the child simple empowering choices: Do you want an apple or a banana?
The next time you’re in a situation where you feel like you have no control, find some – even if it means treating yourself like a tantruming toddler. Recently, I showed up for an appointment that unbeknownst to me had been canceled. I stewed on it a bit and then I decided I had two choices: I could be grateful I’d spent that extra time with one of my kids or I could be thankful that I didn’t have to sit at the doctors with one of my kids.
2 | See worry for what it does.
Worry is a consumer of emotional energy, not a supplier. It raids our storehouses, eating through our happiness. Problem-solving, however, is energy-producing.
Instead of dwelling on the “what ifs” and “maybes,” work to find a solution. Organize your thoughts, write them down, brainstorm or do research – fix problems that are fixable.
3 | Ask yourself, “Would more or less information be helpful?”
Often when we feel anxious or uneasy about something it’s because there’s an unknown component. When you start to worry, ask yourself: Would more or less information be helpful here? Then do accordingly.
If you’re headed to the doctor’s office and are concerned about the diagnosis, Googling your symptoms may only increase your anxiety. You need less information, not the possibility that you’ve contracted a jungle disease. Operate on a need-to-know basis.
If, however, you’re feeling anxious about the doctor’s appointment and you’re concerned not only about the diagnosis but also the logistics of getting there – then you need more information. Figure out your route and the parking situation beforehand to reduce the unknowns.
4 | Heave it up to lay it down.
For many people, their biggest worry is the thing that is too awful to contemplate. It’s the part of our mind that we cordon off with yellow caution tape and flashing, danger signs, because just getting near the outskirts makes us jittery.
But sometimes it is helpful to go to that horrible place because it will give you tangible steps you can take that will ease your mind. Is your worst of the worst losing your spouse? It’s a horrible imagining. However, if it prompts you to make changes regarding life insurance or your will or your job marketability, then you will have achieved some lightness by going to that dark place.
See this post, which talks about dealing with anxiety in children but is very applicable for all ages, for how to handle mental worst case scenarios.
5 | Name your worry.
Your worry might already have a name (spouse, boss, parent, child),so you don’t have to give it an actual name, unless that helps. What you do need to do is note each time your thoughts drift into worry. Force yourself to say, “This is worry.” It’s surprising how frequently our thoughts weigh us down without our even realizing it.
There’s a mindfulness exercise that tells you to pay attention each time you sit down.It’s hard,because for most able-bodied people, sitting down is one of the things we do on autopilot. Worry often works the same way. When you notice that you’re worrying, try replacing it with something else: prayer,singing or listing something that you’re grateful for.
6 | Remember that not all hard things are bad and that good outcomes can come from bad circumstances.
When something difficult happens, instinct tells us to throw up our hands and yell, “No good came come from this.” And at first, that may be true. Hard things are hard. Grief is grief and pain is pain. We don’t have to be stoic or brave.
But just because something starts out poorly does not mean that it will remain that way. Also just because we perceive a situation as hopeless does not mean that is a permanent condition. Hope can be learned. Yes, you read that right – hope can be learned. Brené Brown, researcher and author of Daring Greatly, says that hope is not an emotion but that “Hope is a function of struggle.” Resilience is also learned skilled. This New Yorker article discusses the science behind learned resilience.
That’s the good news: Hope and resilience are traits we can all form. The researchers have the data to prove it. Here’s the bad news: difficult experiences will be our teachers.
We may not be able to prevent difficulties in life but we can learn from those challenges. That should give us all one less thing to worry about!
Further reading: 6 Practical Ways to Better Handle Worry