“The day you stop worrying will be the first day of your new life. Anxiety takes you in circles, trust in yourself and become free.” Leon Brown
The problem with worry is it can be so intense that it ramps up your stress level and takes away any enjoyment in life. It also drains your mental, physical and emotional energy and can debilitate you. But even more important, worry doesn’t create anything in return.
If, as a result of worrying for hours or days on end, it had the effect of resolving the problems you’re concerned about, you might argue that it was a good investment of your time and energy. But worry doesn’t empower you. Going over the same concerns again and again often just takes you round in circles.
In the words of Corrie ten Boom: worrying does not empty tomorrow of its troubles…it only saps today of its strength.
In our heart of hearts, many of us know that worry doesn’t help solve our problems. But we get locked into this way of thinking and say to ourselves: that’s just the way I am, I can’t help it, I’ve always been a worrier.
But you really can stop worrying. You can switch from a life of stress and worry to one of calm and re-assurance. You just have to re-train your mind to focus on different things.
Power of the Mind
What happens when we worry is that we focus our conscious mind on our concerns in an effort to try and overcome whatever is causing our worry. But the problem with this approach is that we live in a universe where the more intensely we focus on something, the more likely we are to draw it into our life. This is good news if it’s something that we want, but bad news, if it’s something we don’t want.
Our mind doesn’t appreciate that when we’re worrying about something, we actually want to stop the cause of our worry. It just knows that we’re focusing on something very intensely and so gets to work to help create our thoughts in reality.
Then when something we’ve been fearful about actually happens, we believe we were right in having worried about it. So we perpetuate the whole process by continuing to worry.
Consequently, you need to be very careful about what you focus on, because your thoughts help create the experiences you have in life.
Stop Worrying: A Different Way of Thinking
What actually causes us all the pain and discomfort when we’re worrying is a feeling that we’re powerless to do anything about the problems we’re facing, whether they’re financial, business, health or family concerns. Because these problems seem impossible to avoid or resolve, we tense ourselves up to face the worst case scenario.
What we need to do in these situations is switch our thoughts from what we don’t want to what we do want. So rather than focusing on the problem, we need to focus on finding a solution. Or, at the very least, how we can lessen the impact of the situation we’re concerned about.
Keep a Worry Journal
The first step in how to stop worrying is to become more aware of how much you worry and what you worry about. For many of us, worrying has become an habitual thought process, so much so that we don’t even realize how often we’re doing it.
So, whether you prefer pen and paper or making notes on your smart phone, write down all the things you’re worried about and the effect they have on you. The simple action of getting the worries out of your head can provide some very welcome relief.
I recommend making a note of the worries as they cross your mind, although this may not always be possible depending on what you’re doing at the time. Once you’ve written it down, do your best to put it out of your mind by consciously switching your thoughts to something else.
Then, when you have a bit more time, come back to your journal and look for patterns in what you worry about and how it affects you. The more aware you become of your anxious thoughts and how you respond, the easier it is to start bringing your worries under control.
Just one other suggestion: don’t review your list of worries last thing at night. You don’t want to go to bed with them all at the front of your mind, and run the risk of a sleepless night.
Recognize What You Can Control and What You Can’t
As you go through your list of worries, start by focusing on the ones you can do something about.
Then, for each one, write down all the things you could do to help resolve the problem. Write down as many ideas as you can think of, no matter how crazy they may seem, because this process helps get your creative, problem solving juices flowing.
Once you’ve exhausted all your ideas, an obvious solution may jump off the page. But if not, just ask yourself what can I do to solve this problem? Whether it’s develop a happy relationship with your son, earn an extra $1,000 a month or get fit and healthy. Just make sure the question is framed in terms of what you want rather than what you’re trying to avoid. By using the words what can I do? there’s an underlying assumption that an answer can be found. Your mind will get to work to come up with a solution.
Then, when you’re least expecting it, the answer to your problem is likely to just pop into your head. You may be taking a shower or driving home late at night, when…ping…the solution drops into your internal mailbox. And equally important, when it does, you must take action and put the idea into practice as soon as possible.
This whole process can bring about huge relief from your troubles and worries, and is an important step in helping you to stop worrying.
What If There’s No Easy Answer?
At this point, you may be thinking: that’s all very well, but what if the circumstances are beyond my control?
Sadly, there are many situations in life that we can’t change. You may be facing a life threatening illness. You may have been laid off. Your husband may have walked out.
None of these situations are easy and it’s no good pretending they are.
But the same rule applies. In order to get relief from your worries, you must ask yourself the what can I …? question. Except in this case, it’s what can I do to improve the situation? You may not be able to change the fact that you have a serious illness or your company has let you go. But you can control your response to the situation. In particular, how you think about it.
The more you rail against the circumstances, getting angry and upset, the worse you feel, because you’re giving energy to the unfairness and awfulness of it all.
Instead, go through the same process as before, writing down all the things you’re worried about. Until you openly acknowledge all your fears, you can’t begin to let them go. Nor can your mind get to work coming up with ideas about how you can ease the situation.
Much of the angst we experience when we’re facing a difficult situation is that we throw so much energy into resisting what’s happening, we can’t see what can be done to improve things. But the minute we start switching our focus from what we can’t control to what we can control, it empowers us, and our worries and anxiety start to ease.
Stop Worrying: Be Mindful of What You Focus On
It really is possible to get relief from your troubles and worries…even if you’re a born worrier and feel totally overwhelmed by all the problems you’re facing right now.
The key lies in shifting your focus from what you can’t control to what you can control.
The more agitated you become about the difficulties you’re facing, the more you sap valuable energy and debilitate yourself. So, if you find yourself dwelling on the unfairness of it all, or the fact that it should never have happened, just acknowledge to yourself that the situation is what it is. You can’t undo something that has happened or words that have been spoken.
Instead, focus your mind on what you can do to either resolve the situation or lessen its impact.
Your mind is a very powerful tool, but it can act as your friend or your enemy. If you allow it to focus on the wrongs of the situation, your worry will only get worse, because whatever you focus on grows. But if you direct it to find ways that you can improve your situation, it will happily oblige.
Just one final note: it can take time to change the way you think about the problems in your life. So, don’t expect your worries to disappear overnight. And don’t beat yourself up if you find you slip back into your old way of thinking. Instead, gently acknowledge that you need to switch your focus to what you can influence. And the more you do this, you will find that your old thinking habits gradually recede and your worries start to diminish.
Click here for a technique to help the tension melt away.