“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” This question posed in the Bible wisely highlights the futility and pointlessness of worrying.
The fact is, we’d all be better off if we could only stop fretting, agonizing, freaking out, panicking, and tormenting ourselves over things we can’t control.
We all need to quit being obsessed with the ‘what ifs’ and imagining the worst-case scenarios. Stop losing sleep over our children, our jobs, our appearance, our health, our past, our money. Stop worrying about what other people think about us.
And while we’re at it, we need to let go of the myth that worrying stops bad things from happening or helps us find solutions to problems. Chronic worrying is counterproductive. Worrying never resolved anything or stopped a tragedy from happening.
As Corrie Ten Boom once said, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.”
That’s because worrying zaps your energy, causes stress levels to soar, taxes your immune system, and takes a toll on your sleep. Allowing doubts and worries to dominate your life can paralyze you with fear, prevent you from reaching goals, and negatively impact your health, well-being, and happiness.
And what for? The truth is that most of the stuff we worry about never happens. Like Mark Twain admitted, “I am an old man and I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”
Okay, so now it’s confession time. I’m talking real big here, but I can be a bit of a worry wart myself.
So what if you’re a chronic worrier and can’t break the habit? Here are a five ways to train your brain to stay calm and develop a more positive attitude:
Create a Worry Period
Instead of worrying all the time, pick a 20 to 30 minute time period for worrying – any time is fine except right before bedtime. Researchers have found that this exercise helps seriously stressed people control their anxieties. During the worry period you have permission to worry about problems or whatever else you want. If you want to use this time productively, try to think of solutions or make necessary decisions. However, the rest of the time is a worry-free zone. If you catch yourself worrying, you must force yourself to think about more positive things.
Write Your Worries Down
Letting all your stress and emotions out on paper can help decrease worry. If an anxious thought or worry comes to mind during your “worry-free zone,” make a brief note of it on paper and postpone stressing about it until your worry period. Remind yourself that you’ll have time to think about your problem later and continue with your day. Sometimes you’ll find that these worries don’t seem so important once you’ve written them down. Keeping a journal is another great outlet for expressing your worries and liberating yourself from those negative feelings. If you hate to write, you can call a friend to vent your worries.
Let go of unproductive worries. For example, you may need to accept a degree of uncertainty, problems that are out of your control, or your own limitations. Accept that sometimes bad things happen. Instead of worrying about problems, focus on things you can control, appreciate, and enjoy.
You’ve heard this before, but a great way to beat stress and quit worrying is to exercise. Or keep your hands and mind distracted from your problems with a creative hobby. Read a good book. Watch a funny movie. Listen to your favorite music. Close your eyes and take long deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. In just a few minutes, you’ll feel the tension leave your body. There’s so many ways to better spend your time than worrying!
Stay in the Present
Quit worrying about mistakes you made in the past or stressing about the future. As I said in a previous blog, Savor the Day, life unfolds in the present, but often we’re so rushed and stressed that we allow moments to pass by unobserved. We don’t savor precious moments with our loved ones, the kindness of a stranger, or the beauty of a sunset. By focusing on the details, you can enjoy the present instead of squandering time worrying about yesterday or tomorrow.