I admit it. I’m a worrywart. I’ve been one all my life. In fact, worrying is my life. Recent world events haven’t helped matters. And frankly, I don’t know whether I’m more afraid of natural disasters, terrorism, or 401K losses. I’m also anxious over things like hurricanes, global warming, swine flu, misanthropic aliens, my Twitter ineptitude, falling elevators, and the return of polyester. This is just a drop in my sea of jitters.
I obsess over things that need to be turned off, put out, opened, closed, switched on, filled up, and emptied. I’m anxious for family, friends, relatives, and mankind in general, even lawyers. I fret about the past, the present, the future. Okay, so I know I shouldn’t worry, but I do. I’ve even written a book (The Worrywart’s Prayer Book) and gained insight I’d like to share in the hopes that you, too, can get a grip and stop worrying.
1. Let There Be No Crisis Before Its Time
A philosopher once coined an adage: “Today is the tomorrow you worried about, and all is well.” Think about that when you’re tempted to time travel into the future to put out fires that haven’t even started yet. Don’t worry about something that will take place in a week, a day, or even an hour. The variables will be different then than they are today. If you have to make a decision on Friday, wait until Friday, and see what the day brings.
2. Stay Grounded in the Present
You’re at the movies and a worrisome thought crosses your mind. Did I check whether the documents were sent tonight to my client? This thought leads to another and another: If they weren’t sent, maybe I can drop them off in the morning? But I have a breakfast meeting with the VP tomorrow. In the meantime, half the movie has gone by, and you’ve missed it. Look at what happens when you don’t stay grounded in the present. Squash unnecessary worrying with one question: “Can I do anything about this matter right now, right this minute?” If the answer is no, stay in the present moment, jot down the thought, and then let it go.
3. Don’t Let Possessions Possess You
Don’t let objects rule you. Don’t give them the power to spoil your day. No one’s advocating that you don’t react upon losing or damaging something, but worrying over a problem after the fact can’t restore or bring anything back. Let go of your attachment to things—no attachment, no worry. The less attachment you have, the less anxiety you bring into your life. Detach and simplify and you minimize worry.
4. Set Worry Limits
Do you spend half your day listening to bad news updates? Do you scan the Internet for more? If you can’t get worry under control right away, then establish limits. Set a timer or a watch alarm for fifteen minutes. Tell yourself: “I feel the need to think about ________, but I can only afford to spend fifteen minutes on it.” When the time is up, the alarm will be a tangible reminder to let the worry go. Schedule this time when you have something important to do immediately afterwards (like picking up the kids, going to a meeting, having friends over), so you’ll have to drop worry and refocus fast.
5. Keep a Worry Journal
Write down your worries in a journal on a weekly basis. Try to keep tabs of how much time you spend being anxious, too. Open the journal each week to see how many of the things you worried about actually happened or came true. Referring to this journal often will show you how much time you waste by worrying. It will also serve as a reminder that most of the things you worry about don’t actually happen.
6. Be Your Own Disaster Master
Worrying is a choice, and you can choose not to do it. Once you catch yourself, you can say, “Okay, I know all I’m doing is going around in circles. So I’m getting off this bus. I’m not going to do this to myself.” Then, get completely absorbed with something that requires your complete mental attention: do a Sudoku puzzle, add some numbers to your cell phone, write a book on Twitter, count the change in your piggy bank, start your taxes early, etc.
7. Stop Playing God
You can’t plan for every outcome. So worrisome thinking such as If this, happens, I’ll do this. If that happens, I’ll do that. If this and that happen, I’ll do this and that will only drive you up the wall. Truth is, you don’t know what will happen five minutes from now, let alone tomorrow, so stop trying to do God’s job
8. Don’t Control Others with Your Worries
Worrying about loved ones wastes a lot of time and opens up the door to permanent estrangement. The antidote? Let people be who they are. Stop forcing others to do what will make you feel better, instead of what they want. Don’t manipulate them into eating what you want them to eat, going where you want them to go, or doing what you want them to do under the guise of love. Give people credit for having half a brain and knowing what’s good or bad for them. You’ll cut your worrying in half.
9. Rein in Your Imagination
Many worriers are gifted with imaginations. Don’t use yours against yourself. Instead of doting on the worst-case scenario, conjuring up negative images of doom and gloom, use your mind to form a positive picture. Visualize what’s good about the situation. Think about the best possible scenario or outcome instead.
10. Practice and Pretend
Pretending you’re not anxious when you are interrupts the worry cycle so you can practice going about your business as usual—uncomfortable but still functioning. After you survive a series of nail-biting experiences that turn out to be nothing to worry about, your mind will say, “See I told you so.” Practice and pretend not to worry and, in time, anxieties won’t paralyze you. Remember, though, that you can’t just stop worrying all at once and expect results. Decreasing your tendency to worry takes dedication. But will I worry about not worrying and make myself anxious? I think not.
By Allia Nolan Zobel for Beliefnet