Most of us wish we worried less, but worrying isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, we couldn’t survive without some worry. Worry is nature’s way of helping us anticipate–and avoid–danger. Most successful people are worriers. They are constantly looking for potential problems and taking steps to forestall them. That’s what I call good worry. It leads to constructive action.
1. Distinguish TOXIC worrying from GOOD worrying.
Toxic worry is ruminative worry–going over and over the same ground without making any progress toward solving the problem. This kind of worry is self-perpetuating. It creates a psychological and physiological spiral in which stress chemicals feed back to the brain, signaling the brain to worry even more. This is most often triggered by two factors, which Hollowell calls the “basic equation” of worry–a feeling of vulnerability…combined with a perception of powerlessness. To worry effectively, you need to combat these vulnerable and powerless feelings…and mobilize yourself for effective problem solving.
2. Change your physical state.
One of the biggest mistakes that worriers make is trying to analyze their worry–as though thinking about how worried they are will lead them to a solution. But thinking about your worry only leads to the toxic spiral previously described. The quickest way to change your mental state is to do something physical. Go for a walk, a run, brush your teeth, whatever… Merely doing some activity will–at least temporarily–push the problem out of your mind. And when you return to the problem, you’ll have a better perspective. Physical touch also helps you to become calm. Ask someone for a hug or a pat on the back, or schedule an “emergency” massage.
3. Never worry alone.
Your imagination tends to exaggerate the danger you’re in. Asking someone you trust for a “reality check” can help to reestablish your optimism and sense of control. Don’t be shy about asking for reassurance, “Remind me that this is going to work out fine.” Hearing one simple reassurance is a surprisingly powerful way to break the worry cycle. What if worry strikes at night–or at another time when there is no one to talk to–write down your fears and have a “conversation” on paper. This will help put your worry into a concrete–and controllable–form.
4. Evaluate the situation.
This is step #1 of the EPR procedure. E=Evaluate the situation by asking, “What’s the pattern here?” If you are having trouble getting to the root of a problem, consider consulting an expert–either someone with knowledge about the problem itself (such as a financial adviser) or about how to approach the problem (such as a mental health professional).
This is step #2 of EPR. P=Plan by brainstorming ways of breaking the pattern of worry. List steps you can take to put your plan into action.
The 3rd step of EPR is Remediate. Remediate is the practice of taking one step at a time, usually a small one. This won’t solve the problem today, but taking even one step will increase your sense of power and control.
7. Change what you say to yourself.
Worriers tend to talk to themselves in negative terms. When you catch yourself wallowing in self-defeating thoughts, actively challenge them. (Sometimes I just say, “NO!” out loud. -CP) This may seem forced or artificial, but if you do it consistently–it works.
8. Stay active.
Physical activity not only gives you a break from acute worry, but when done regularly, it can also help prevent worry. Exercise increases cerebral blood flow, so that more oxygen and stabilizing chemicals reach the brain. Eventually it will lead to positive changes in brain chemistry.
9. Meditate–or pray–regularly.
Although you probably shouldn’t sit quietly when you’re actively consumed with worry, regular meditation and prayer are as useful as exercise in preventing worry. Even five minutes of contemplation–if you do it every day–can reset the brain’s circuits and have an overall calming effect.
10. Get connected.
Feeling that you are an indispensable part of something larger than yourself–whether it is family, neighborhood, workplace, church, community choir, sports team, etc.–is a very effective worry-buster. There is no better antidote to insecurity, vulnerability and helplessness than knowing you can count on a group of people to support you through disappointment, failure or other setbacks…and knowing that others can count on you.
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