Photo by JUCO
Guest Contribution by Rebecca A. Watson
“Do not anticipate trouble or worry about what may never happen.
Keep in the sunlight.” ~Benjamin Franklin
A friend and I were on a beautiful hike through the redwood. It was early morning, and the mist still hung in the trees, but the sunlight had started streaming through the branches, little beams of heaven.
“I hope I locked the car,” she wondered out loud.
We both looked at each other and started laughing. Here we were in arguably one of the most beautiful and special places on the planet, and she couldn’t help but worry about the car doors.
It’s something we’re all guilty of, and it’s a tough habit to break: worry. It can rob us of our sleep, our joy and in many cases our sanity.
When I was only 21, struggling to pay for school and other bills, I made a rare discovery: Worrying won’t make me more money.
It was like a light bulb went on for me. Of course, it didn’t make me stop worrying completely, but I started to see worry for what it really was, and I knew I could beat it.
Over the years I’ve become much more adept at managing my inner worry-wart, and I’d like to share some of that, because I believe with a little practice, worry can be a thing of the past. And when it leaves, it creates more room for peace, love and beauty in our lives.
Insight into Your Inner Worry
The reason most people are angry, stressed out or filled with anxiety is because they can’t answer the burning question inside them: Why? In order to answer that, you need to get the hard data. This is the easy part, but it takes some legwork.
The following is a two-step process to gaining insight and understanding into your worries—recognizing what they are, when they happen and what triggers them.
1. Identify Your Hot-Button Issues
Keep a small notebook with you for three days. (Trust me, it’s worth it.)
Divide the pages into three columns. Every time you worry, write down what you worry about, when and where you are.
After the three days, go through your notes and tally up your “what” column.
There are usually a few big ones that stand out. These are the hot-button issues that cause us to worry. For me, it was money and how people perceived me.
2. Identify Your Worry Triggers
This is where your “when” and “where” columns come into play. Grab a piece of paper and a pen.
Draw out four (or less) columns. Write your top four hot-button worry issues at the top of each column.
You may have more or less hot-button issues than four. The point is to keep it to a maximum of four worries. I had two reoccurring worries: money and how people perceived me, and I just focused on these two for this exercise.
Write down the times and locations of each worry instance. Once you’re done, look through each column for patterns. Notice if you tend to worry more during a certain time or activity. These are your triggers.
For example, I found that I would worry about money after I looked at catalogs or magazines.
Pay attention to the “whens” of each column where you find yourself worrying about things, and start to become sensitive to them. Take proactive steps to avoid your triggers.
For example, in my case, I unsubscribed to a lot of magazines. I quit looking through catalogs. Immediately, I felt a lot better.
When you can’t avoid your triggers, be aware that you might worry more but to not take it so seriously. Tell yourself: “I’m just worrying about that right now because of A, B or C.” And move on.
How to Deal with Your Inner Worry-Wart
Learn to have conversations with your inner-worrier. This is vital. The voice in your head that worries is there for a purpose. There are certain things that should make your hair stand up.
But just because that worrier is supposed to be there doesn’t mean it belongs in the driver’s seat. This is when knowing your triggers become vital, because it gives you factual ammunition that can help your worrier calm down.
1. Be Kind and Encouraging
I’ve read a lot of self-help books that say you’ve got to be aggressive toward certain parts of yourself in order to tame them into submission.
I disagree. We have enough tough love in the world. It’s time for a little kindness. Your inner worry wart is frazzled enough working overtime, oftentimes in unstable conditions.
When you start chatting with the part of you that worries, remember that this part of you can be like a child: Handle with care. Try to avoid chastising or saying hurtful things.
Use phrases that are friendly. “I understand that you are worried.” Be empathetic. “It must be hard work worrying like this all day. ” Offer to be helpful. “What can I do to make things easier for you?”
2. Ask Questions
Start with the easiest: “What are you worried about?” And then let your worrier talk. Then ask: “How does worrying make you feel better?” Listen to what it says.
Then talk with it about the triggers. “Do you think you’re just worrying because we spent time doing this activity?” Your inner worrier might have a bit of an ego, but if you’re kind, it will usually admit the truth.
Then ask the kicker: “What will worrying about this do?” The answer is almost always nothing. “So why do you continue to worry?” To which your worrier can’t say much.
3. Gratitude & Compliment
When your worry-wart gets to that point where it admits that there isn’t really a reason to worry, celebrate with it! When you notice it’s been quiet from worrying, compliment it.
But understand that it may still want to hold on to the habit because it feels like that is all it’s good for. It may feel useless without the unnecessary worry.
This is why it’s important to acknowledge how grateful you are when it’s quiet. And it’s also important to compliment it when it speaks up in a situation that’s questionable.
“Thanks so much for speaking up when I thought about going through that deserted field at night. That was a bad idea.”
4. Be Vigilant But Be Patient
Worrying is a habit that for many of us, is as old as we are. You can’t break a habit like that in a week. Or even a month.
Even now, a decade after my realization, I catch myself worrying about finances, going over my bills in my head or mentally balancing my checkbook.
At this point I have to remind myself that I trust myself, I make good choices and most importantly, that worrying isn’t going to make my bank account balance go up. And then I move on.
The End to Worry
If you spend some time working with yourself and make a commitment to worry less, I can guarantee that other parts of your life will become more beautiful.
The space you create by removing worry will be filled with wonderful things. You will have more mental and physical energy and your body will thank you for it. I encourage you to grab a notebook and give it a try!
* What do you worry about? What did you learn from this article? Share your thoughts and insights with us in the comment section below.
About the Author
Rebecca is a fierce optimist who believes in the power of making life happen. After realizing optimism doesn’t jive with journalism, she left newspaper to create her own brand of marketing through education and humor. Balance and mindfulness are her latest pursuits, along with learning to knit. Read her blog and follow her on Twitter for her latest enthusiastic (and sometimes witty) remarks.
Related Stories on Overcoming Worry:
- How to Be The Luckiest Person
- Synchronicity – The Beauty of Coincidences
- How to Stop Negative Self Talk
- How to Ignite Personal Change
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