What Me Worry? Overcoming Your Daily Worries With These Three Simple Steps
There is an old Swedish proverb that goes something like this, “Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.” Worry — none of us are immune to it. In fact, at the right dose worry is a normal and necessary part of daily life. According to Kate Sweeney, a psychology professor at the University of California, worry is essential for our preventative and protective behaviors. Worry can serve as an important motivator to remind us to take care of things such as our health, finances and household responsibilities. Worrying about an event keeps the “stressor” top of mind and when functional can motivate us toward action. Examples of this type of “good worry” could be:
- I am worried about my health, so I make an appointment with my doctor and get my annual mammogram.
- I am worried about my big client presentation, so I spend hours diligently preparing for it.
- I am worried about the forecasted hurricane, so I take action to prepare my house and stock up on non-perishable food items so that I will have enough to eat.
These types of worries, followed by action lend control to our stresses. But what happens when worry becomes excessive and spirals out of control. Dysfunctional worry can begin to consume us leading to chronic stress and anxiety. Symptoms of chronic anxiety can be felt physically and can include the inability to fall asleep or sleep through the night. Physical symptoms of chronic worry can also include feelings of exhaustion, headaches, nervousness, dizziness, shortness of breath and even stomachaches and other gastro-intestinal problems.
Why Is it So Hard to Stop Worrying?
It can be hard to find just that right balance of worry before it turns into chronic stress and anxiety. Wouldn’t it be great if our brains had an on/off switch that we could easily press to stop our worries when they begin to sap our emotional strength? But even though there is no magic switch, the good news is that we do have more control over our worries than we think. By following these three simple tips we will be on your way to silencing our worries and restoring calm and control back to our world in no time.
- Challenge Your Worries: Did you know a recent study showed that 85% of what we worry about never actually happens? When we define a worry in our mind we often focus on the worst possible outcome and then we focus our perceived reaction (often negative) to the event. For example, if our loved one is running late we might let our mind wonder and think the worst. My loved one is late returning home so there must have been a very horrible accident. If there was a horrible accident there may be no survivors. If I have lost my loved one in this horrible accident I will not be able to survive the tragedy of this event. Instead of letting your mind spiral out of control with negative thoughts and worries the next time you start to worry about something try this journaling exercise. Start by writing down what you are worried about. Think about what this worry looks like today. Now think about what this worry will look like in a week? a month? a year? and even five years down the road? Challenge your worry by writing down the odds that this negative event will actually happen. Now clear even more space in your mind by writing down the emotions that you are feeling now at this very moment.
- Turn Off the News and Shut Down your Phone: Be aware that the news, whether on the television, internet or through social media feeds quickly adds fuel to the fire, which is your worry. Today, the news is solely focused on the tragic stories of the coronavirus pandemic and the effects, broadcast by the media, of the coronavirus seem to worsen not only by the day, but by the hour as well. Remember you are in control of the news cycle – the news cycle is not in control of you. Yes, stay informed, but you can decide what you want to watch, when you want to watch it and how much news is good for you. Unplugging from social media can also be really good for your mental health. Constant scrolling can leave you exhausted and depleted and result in feelings of anxiety and depression. Yes, it is beneficial to stay connected, but again remember you are in control. Choose the time and space for connection in a way that is healthy for you and allows for time to focus on other activities. And speaking about other activities….
- Spend Some Time in Nature: Environmental Activist John Muir once said, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” Nature has a healing ability that cannot be found anywhere else. Spending time outdoors is good for the body, mind and soul and it doesn’t have to cost a penny. Recent research shows that spending time outdoors has the ability to reduce anger, fear and stress and increase feelings of overall wellness and happiness. It doesn’t matter what you choose to do and the good news is you will never get bored as the opportunities for outdoor activities are endless. Go for a walk in a city garden, explore a new hiking trail, enjoy a picnic at the beach or simply sit under a tree with a book.
The Bottom Line: Smile More Worry Less
Yes, there will always be things to worry about — this is one thing we can be sure of. But remember you have more control over your worries than you might like to think. Always remember that when you take the time to step away from your worry – it will look different when you return. Only you can break your habit of excessive worrying. With a little work and extra attention your outlook can be changed and you will be on the way to smiling more and worrying less in no time.
- Kate Sweeny, Michael D. Dooley. The surprising upsides of worry. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2017; 11 (4): e12311 DOI: 10.1111/spc3.12311