If you are human, it would be fair to say that you have worried once or twice in your life. The last time that you were caught in a worry, did it feel good? When you were done with the worry, could you objectively look back and honestly say that the worry process was helpful for you? I have never enjoyed the process of a worry. Also, the worry process is not deemed as being helpful. Worrying never changes the outcome. The only result of worry is fatigue.
What is a worry?
The nature of a worry is the focus of mental energy onto a negative outcome. I have never worried that I would win a million dollars. I have never worried that the chicken I made is going to turn out too good. What about you? Have you ever worried about being too intelligent for something? Probably not. We’re never concerned about a positive ending. But we’re all worried about a negative outcome. We worry about being late, overcooking dinner, not having enough money, not being smart enough, not being attractive enough, making mistakes, etc. Worries are the focus on what we don’t want to happen in our lives.
Thoughts lead to emotions, resulting in physical feelings. When we worry, our thoughts are negative in nature. This allows us to feel badly. Thomas Troward once said, “The law of flotation was not discovered by contemplating the sinking of things.” No good feelings result from thinking about the potential negatives of a situation. Therefore, we need to turn our thinking around so that we can open our minds to other potentials. The potentials that you think about are your own creation, and that act of focusing on a potential is within your control.
When you worry now, you’ll worry later.
When you participate in a worry, you are engaged in an event that makes you feel powerless. The act of the worry supplies you with a pseudo sense of control. It allows you to feel like you are being productive in a situation where there is nothing for you to do. There is nothing that you can do to change the result. You have no control over the outcome. Suffice it to say, that sense of powerlessness doesn’t feel so good. In order to reclaim a sense of control, you worry. Running all of the negative potentials through your mind allows you to feel like you are doing something productive. In fact, what is actually happening is that by worrying, the neurological connections in your brain are creating stronger relationships. Dr. Joe Dispenza says, “Nerve cells that fire together, wire together.” That means that the more you worry now, reinforcing neurological connections in your brain, the more likely you are to worry in the future.
We Worry to Survive
However, it is important that we understand that the act of worrying has an origin story and a purpose. There is a reason why we have thoughts of rumination, despite how negative those thoughts might be. Have you ever seen the movie, “The Croods?” Don’t worry if you haven’t; I won’t spoil any endings for you. The premise of the movie is the need for a family of “cavemen” to venture into the world, leaving the safety of their cave behind. The father wanted to stay in the cave because he believed it was the safest place for his family. The father was ruled by fear, which he used in his decision-making for the safety of the family. However, changing circumstances began to challenge this survival technique and force his family out of the cave. Now, with the cave behind them, the family had to find a way to survive their new surroundings.
And like the fictional characters “The Croods,” there is a biological imperative for all organisms to survive. Worrying is a primitive way to ensure that survival. If we can think about all of the potential negatives of leaving our cave, then we can develop a plan of safety by remaining confined, ultimately resulting in our survival.
Negative thoughts seem to carry more weight than positive thoughts. The fear for our safety can override our ability to take risks. The negative process of worrying can feel more powerful than the idea of letting go of an outcome. Our propensity for negativity in our thinking has a long history in our psyche. In essence, as a society, our history of worrying has helped us remain safe and survive as a species. However, the worry about the stain on your favorite shirt, or being a few minutes late to a movie doesn’t existentially threaten your life. Regardless, the worry is there for a purpose, and we need to respect that before we move into effectively managing our worries.
Ways to Manage Your Worry
Now that you know that worrying is not helpful, the following are steps that you can begin to use to feel a sense of management in your life.
Identify what is worrying you.
The first step in mastering effective management over your worry process is to identify what it is that you are worrying about. This may sound overly simplified, but we can’t manage what we are unaware of. Create a “worry log.” This record of your worries will do two things. One, it will take your abstract invisible thoughts and make them concrete. Two, it sets the stage for you to be able to manipulate your thoughts through the following steps.
Don’t be the judge, jury, and executioner.
Don’t judge yourself for your worries. When we judge ourselves, it doesn’t create a feeling of inspiration. It creates a feeling of failure. This feeling of failure can steal your energy away from making positive change in managing your thought process. Practice acceptance of what is. When you recognize that your negative thoughts are just thoughts, without judgement, you will then begin to disempower the negativity.
Is what you are worrying about important?
Put what you are worrying about into perspective. In the grander scheme of your life, how much emphasis are you willing to place onto this specific worry?
Make a choice.
After you have put your worrisome thought into a more manageable perspective, shift your energy towards making a choice. If an outcome is not possible, then what would you rather think about instead? In your “worry log,” complete this sentence, “I choose to focus on …” You can even choose to prepare instead of worry. I once had a colleague who said, “Worry is not preparation.” If you can prepare and plan, then do so instead of worry. If you can’t prepare because there is nothing you can do anyway, worrying is not helpful. This step is more than a mere distraction. It is an active choice with the understanding of the reasons for that choice. A distraction is a shift of attention without meaningful intention.
Rinse and repeat.
Remind yourself of these steps every time you find a worry begin to carry you away. Repetition is needed in order to create new neurological relationships in your brain. The more you repeat this process, the less power your worry will have over you. In the end, you will feel more in control of your life.
If these steps aren’t enough, and you feel the need to practice this with a therapist, please call The Center for Trauma, Stress, and Anxiety, LLC at (443) 567-7037.