I consider myself to be an expert on worrying. All too well, I can remember the endless nights of tossing and turning with those annoying gnaws that kept my mind from reaching a restful state that would allow me to wake up refreshed. I can vividly recall too many days of feeling both mentally and physically drained from needless worrying and of being deprived of any sense of happiness, well-being, or focus to function well both at home and in my job.
How many times have you experienced the anxiety and fear of worrying? In what ways has worrying become an unwelcomed and automatic part of your everyday life? How do you cope with worrying or does it ultimately control you?
Worrying often starts with a nagging thought that is compounded by more nagging thoughts until there is a storm of chaotic thoughts in your mind. So, what can we do to change this thought pattern? How can we effectively manage those chaotic thoughts to decrease worrying?
Here’s how to worry less and to focus more on your happiness:
Understand what it means to worry:
Just think about it. How many times have you worried about something that never happened? For the most part, your worries are not much more than the monsters you have created in your minds. You will find that being worried won’t make your problems go away or even prevent them from happening. In fact, the stress and strain of worrying can have a negative outcome on your response to effectively dealing with your problems.
Gain perspective and control:
When you worry, you can easily get lost in the exaggerations of your fears. To find clarity, take a step back and view the situation from a different perspective. A good technique is to imagine yourself standing on a balcony and looking down on your worry-induced situation. From this perspective, honestly describe your worry in terms of fact or fiction and assess its validity in terms of your level of control and the worst-case scenario.
Engage in problem solving:
Worrying and problem solving are two very distinct thought processes. When you worry, you are immersed in chaotic thoughts that tend to disrupt your ability to think clearly and discover viable solutions. When you are problem solving, you are actively focused on the situation and how best to resolve it within your scope of control and options available to you. Your objective is to be proactive and to determine the best course of action for a successful outcome. To accomplish this, you must have a worry-free, clarity of mind.
Say “no” to nagging thoughts:
During mentally vulnerable moments such as when you’re exhausted before bed, it is very easy to let your nagging thoughts turn into major worries. When this starts to happen, don’t become victim to your worries. Tell yourself… “no” as the quickest and easiest way to shut down your negative thoughts. Give yourself a time out to think about more positive experiences. And, understand that you can always come back to your problems at a time when you are less vulnerable and more able to deal with them.
Spend more time in the present:
Stay focused on the present and avoid rehashing your past mistakes or thinking about the unknown of the future. When you are mindful and stay current in the moment, you will diminish your need to obsess over situations that are ultimately beyond your scope of control – namely the past and the future.
Open up to trusted people about your worries:
A positive way to lessen the power of your worries is to share them with a trusted person. Just venting to a friend can make it so much easier to gain clarity and to see your worry for what it really is. The right person will be able to ground you and to give you a more practical and realistic perspective to your issue at hand. If you can identify and freely consult with a few confidants, you will find that your worries will often appear to be less big or important than originally thought.
Learn to live with uncertainty:
In addition to being in constant flux, life can be unpredictable. Without some type of crystal ball or sixth sense, it will be impossible for you to gauge every direction your life will take you. Learn to live with that reality and embrace ambiguity. Once you do, life will be much more tolerable and worry free.
Written by: Patricia K. Flanigan, Smart Strategies for Successful Living
Patricia K. Flanigan has worked in higher education for over 28 years. She holds a doctoral degree in Organizational Leadership from the University of La Verne as well as a M.A. in Latin American Studies and B.A. in Anthropology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Before retiring and moving to Idaho in 2015, she served as the dean of online education and learning resources at Saddleback College, a large community college in Southern California. She currently consults in higher education, volunteers for AARP, writes for a local magazine, and serves as an Affiliate Faculty member at Boise State University and a contributing member to LEARN Idaho. Since February 2017, she has been the founding director for Smart Strategies for Successful Living, a community-based website designed to promote quality aging. As an educator, her focus is to inspire others to live and age well.