Worry is the prime cause of anxiety for most, and can be hard to pin down as it can appear innocuous. To eliminate worry you have to understand how it works, and how it differs from concerns and fears.
Fear is an emotion, while anxiety is a state of distress created in thought. Where fear is pushing you to protect yourself (or others), anxiety is a reaction to a cognitive distortion. Worry is one type of distortion. Similarly, concerns are problems you can do something about – worries are an exaggerated, alarmist opinion.
Worries are not real; they are fictions about the future. Your mind makes them up either as disaster movies, horror stories or repetitive tapes. It was long ago established that 85% of the events we worry about either never materialize or are greatly exaggerated. Make a decision not to watch or listen to a single worry ever again.
Worries serve no purpose and are, in fact useless. Some people think worry helps them solve problems. It doesn’t. It just creates anxiety and adds to the problem. Real problem-solving has nothing to do with worry, but with solution-focused reasoning.
Some people think that worry staves off misfortune, thinking they are going to be ‘punished’ if they don’t watch their backs. They imagine that happiness ‘is all too good to be true’ or ‘it’ll all end badly some day’. Then they start worrying against the day their happiness will be ended by a capricious fate. The idea that you can stave off that day through worrying is a superstition.
Understand, also that worrying can be addictive. The more you worry, the more anxious you will get. That anxiety then fuels further worries, as the mind tries to find ‘reasons’ to worry. But that triggers still more anxiety in a vicious, self-feeding loop. When you stop fusing with worries you will break the loop.
How not to worry
Worry is a bad habit formed from conditioning in earlier life. Typically, it is modelled on parental behaviour; sometimes it is a habit one picks up at school. Very young children do not worry – they are trained to worry by the adults around them. You can reverse that conditioning by using the ideas given below.
1. Distinguish between problems and worries. Problems are things that are happening now, not in the future. If it hasn’t happened yet, it’s not a problem. Problems are solved by checking the facts, getting advice, experimenting with solutions, and patience. Not worry.
2. Distinguish between concerns and worries. Concerns are matters you care about and can influence. If you cannot do anything about the thoughts in your head then they are worries, and can be quietly forgotten.
3. When you catch yourself worrying, run the worry again in your mind, this time using the voice of an idiot. That could be a cartoon or movie character, or it could be someone you actually know. Run it until you laugh, or get bored with it (boredom with worries is a great way to neutralise them).
4. Refocusing. As soon as you hear this idiotic mind-tape STOP wasting time on it and immediately do something that occupies your full attention. Vigorous physical exercise, or shouting, dancing, singing and laughing are all good to do.
5. Procrastinate your worries. If the worry won’t go away then write it down and then put it in away in a drawer, promising yourself you’ll look at it in a few days. Then forget about it. I used to do this myself. Looking at those scraps of paper a week later, I couldn’t remember what most of them were about.
6. Worry periods. If they are still insistent then hold 10 minute ‘worry periods’ each day until you get tired with them. This method works through paradoxical intention. What you do is to work very hard to worry. Imagine the most exaggerated, over-the-top, outcomes. Try and make yourself anxious. You will find that this is, in fact, extremely hard to do. Then go off and enjoy the rest of your day.
7. Practice mindfulness. The more time you spend ‘in’ your body the less time you will have to spend listening to Junkmind mischief. It doesn’t matter which method you use – Yoga, Tai Chi, Breathing exercises, Self-massage, Feldenkreis, Alexander technique, or just being aware of your feet pushing down on the floor – just do it. Today.
8. Learn the art of thought defusion and practice doing it daily until you break the habit of fusing with specific worries.