I used to be a prolific worrier. Until my mid-thirties, my worries ranged from anxiety about my unreliable car to whether the world was going to implode. As with many people, middle-of-the-night worrying interrupted my sleep, when a cornucopia of real or perceived threats kept me tossing and turning.
Worrying is a tough habit to break, and it’s worth the effort. Why?
Chronic worrying is bad for your health. According to WebMD: Chronic worrying affects your daily life so much that it interferes with your appetite, lifestyle habits, relationships, sleep, and job performance.
It is easy to confuse worrying with problem solving. Worrying doesn’t actually solve anything, and the more time you spend worrying, the more problems (real or imagined) you’ll find. No solutions, just a host of problems that will probably never come to pass.
There is no easy solution for us worry warts, however, there are strategies that can help create a more carefree existence:
Figure out what you worry about. You might need to dig to find the source of “free-floating anxiety.” If you worry most about relationships, for example, you can take steps to improve them. If you worry about everything, you might need some help for generalized anxiety disorder.
Schedule worrying. The Mayo Clinic suggests setting aside a time for worrying. (They suggest this to caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients, but I think it applies to anyone.) Mayo Clinic blogger Angela Lunde suggests, “When worry or other draining emotion begins to consume your thoughts, acknowledge it and then commit that you will give it your full attention during “worry time”. Until then, give yourself permission to put it out of your mind.”
Create a memory jogger. If you really want to break the worrying habit, do something that reminds you that you’re taking a new approach to your troubles. Wear your watch on the other arm, or set your mobile phone alarm to remind yourself periodically to check and reset your thinking.
Replace your worries with new thinking. How did I break the worrying habit? I decided to stop worrying about things outside of my control, and replace those negative internal messages with positive ones. Whenever I found myself worrying about layoffs at work, I would change my thought to, “I will continue to do my best, and ultimately this will all work out.”
Talk and write. Putting your worries into words in and of itself can make you feel better. This can also help you figure out if your problems are real or inflated. Talk with a trusted friend or confidant, and let this person know how they can help (like listen, ask questions or give advice). Writing about your worries allows you to clarify your thoughts and feelings, and gives you a great record of what’s bugging you when and why.
Use worrying to your advantage. A mild amount of disquiet can be motivational. If you’re feeling a little anxious about something at work, use that energy to fuel disciplined action and boost execution.
Sometimes we are dealt a hand that is extremely hard to handle. When this happens, worrying is natural. A brief period of anxiety should be immediately followed by creating a plan and making it happen. “Worrying is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere” (author unknown).
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