We spend an incredible amount of time and energy thinking about what we don’t want to happen. If you feel like your time and energy is consumed by thoughts of the bad things that could happen or the harsh criticism your efforts or ideas will receive from other people, you are not alone. We have a word that describes the emotional suffering people experience by investing energy in negativity. The word is worry. It can be a noun; you might say “I have a lot of worry in my life”. It can also be a verb; you may find yourself saying, “She is going to worry herself to death”.
The powerful role worry plays in the world is reflected in the fact that, while we have this single word to identify the pain of thinking about negative things we think might happen, we do not have a single word that describes the opposite. Can you think of a single word (noun and verb) that describes the good feelings of anticipating positive outcomes and preparing for good things to happen? I can’t find one. If you can, please let me know. I think it really shows the pervasiveness of worry in our lives that English, such a widely used language, does not have a single word to positively counter the negative of worry.
Being no stranger to worry, you are familiar with the emotional suffering, and you know the high-cost worry can have on your life. It impacts judgement, concentration, productivity, relationships, and self-image. So, how do you defeat worry and start living? How do you become more of a warrior and less of a worrier? There are many strategies to choose from and perspectives that can be adopted. We will examine 2 of my favorite strategies for overcoming worry and get you started on the path to living with greater confidence.
Analyze Your Worry
This tool in overcoming worry has two parts. First, understand worry can be a habit, a default pattern you unconsciously revert to when you are faced with uncertainty. I tell clients on an almost daily basis “patterns persist”. If a child was raised in a household where one or both parents were anxious and chronic worriers, that child may learn worry as a reaction to the stress of uncertainty and use that reaction in the future. Patterns are like inertia; they will continue their path until they are acted upon by an outside force.
When it comes to breaking patterns that outside force is awareness. Patterns persist until we become aware of the pattern and decide to do something else. It is important to look at ourselves and to recognize the role worry plays in our lives. Ask yourself, “Do I worry sometimes about big things that come up?” or “Do I worry most of the time about even little things?” Does worry play a part in your life more days than not? The first step in solving a problem is awareness of the problem. If chronic worry has become a habit for you, the more awareness you can bring to the situation the closer you are implementing a solution.
Second, write down exactly what it is you are worried about. When we are anxious and worried our minds are often whirling with questions like “Why me?” “How could this happen?” or “What will people think?” These are extraneous and just confuse your mind. Get a pen and paper and write down the specifics of your worry and what you can do about it.
What am I worried about?
I’m worried I can’t go to the formal dinner party tonight. I tried on my good jacket, but I’ve gained weight and the seam in the back burst. I don’t have the money now to buy a new one.
What can I do about it?
Worry causes confusion and distraction. The very act of sitting down and writing helps you to focus. Asking specific questions about the problem and what can be done cuts out insignificant questions and gets the brain invested in solution thinking.
Rank your answers according to their probability for positive outcome. Worry lessens once a clear decision has been made and begins to fade away once action is taken on that decision. Follow through on your first solution. If it doesn’t prove useful, move down the list. You have more options, that simply stewing in worry never would not have provided. The more action you take the less worry infects your mind.
Plan for the worst realistic scenario
The worst thing about worry is that it ruins our ability to concentrate. Our minds begin to imagine a million ways things could go wrong. As worry increases, the things we imagine can become increasingly unrealistic.
You receive a bad performance review. You imagine you will have to undertake some supplemental training or corrective action. Then, you start to worry about how mad your boss will get and that he will yell at you. As your worry increases, you imagine a demotion or a transfer out of the department you love. Your worry may begin to run away with you, and you imagine getting fired. Finally, panic sets in and you imagine being chased out of the building by a hundred angry employees with ropes and pitchforks and you end up living under a bridge.
Of all these things, what is realistic? There is no immediate reason for you to live under a bridge if you lost your job. You won’t be chased by an angry mob. Will you be fired? You must ask if you have had a bad review before. Have you ever had corrective action taken against you? If not, you probably won’t get fired, so that worry can be considered unrealistic.
You have separated the unrealistic worries out. Now, remember the more action you take the less worry can infect your mind. All you have left is the question… What kind of corrective action will be taken? Be proactive, approach your boss and/or Human Resources with your desire to correct the situation and improve your performance. Find out what the company’s policy is in these situations, and you will know how best to proceed.
So, by getting realistic about your worries you can clearly define the worst thing that actually could happen. You can then make a decisive plan to deal with that situation, and the absurdity of most of your worries becomes clear.
Worry only intensifies problems. Problems are solved by rational clear thinking and decisive action. Worry can be a habit and breaking a habit takes awareness and practice. By practicing the two strategies presented here you will develop the skill of awareness and the ability to take powerful action to overcome worry.
If you would like to discover more about the affect worry has on your physical and emotional health and even more tools to overcome worry, you can follow my blog at https://www.lloydrobrecht.com/ or call for an appointment at (540) 312-9832