We’ve all been stuck in the worry trap at one time or another. While you can’t declutter worry from your countertops, it is a form of clutter … emotional clutter.
Like so many of the thoughts and emotions we experience, worry becomes habit and then a trap. The worry trap keeps us in an endless loop of what ifs like …
- What if I had done this differently?
- What if they are thinking about what I said or did?
- What if this happens?
- What if this doesn’t happen?
- What if I fail, or succeed, or love, or lose?
I’ve written about my multiple sclerosis diagnosis before and the changes I’ve made to live well with MS, but I haven’t really shared how worried I was at first. At one appointment, when I couldn’t stand up and close my eyes without falling over, my neurologist said, “You are standing on the edge of a cliff.” He went on to explain that if I ignored the symptoms and test results, I’d likely go downhill quickly but taking action could result in a completely different outcome. People told us we should think about remodeling our home, or consider moving somewhere without stairs so when my MS progressed, I could still get around.
And so I worried.
I worried about falling off the cliff. I worried that I’d wake up blind. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to feel my feet hit the floor when I got out of bed. I worried I wouldn’t be able to take care of my daughter or hike with my family.
It’s been more than 14 years since I chose to take action and back away from the edge of the cliff. I found my way out of the worry trap. Since then I’ve ridden my bike hundreds of miles, climbed mountains, skied down them, and traveled around the world. Today I can stand up, close my eyes and feel steady. Recent MRI scans show no MS progression. If I had spent the last 14 years worrying about my decline, I believe I would have declined. And if I was caught in the worry trap, I never would have changed my life.
Worry keeps us up at night and weighs us down. Worry encourages fear and makes us tired, cranky and scared. Worry doesn’t fix anything. Worry is a trap.
The Worry Trap: 10 simple ways to break free
1. Be present.
Worry is always about the past or the future. It’s never about now. Be in the now while it’s happening and unfolding. Experience it. Engage in it. Don’t let worry distract you from another present moment.
2. Write out the worry.
When you worry, you can think about it over and over again and get all caught up in the trap or you can write it down. When you see it on paper, it isn’t as mysterious or big anymore. Name your worry. Get it off your mind and onto paper. If you don’t like to write, make a quick audio recording about your worry. When you’re finished, listen to it and then ceremoniously delete it. Goodbye worry.
3. Have fewer things to worry about.
Simplicity helps you worry less. I used to worry about making ends meet, then I started working on fewer ends. With less around, there is less worry. Be discerning about what you choose to surround yourself with. Hold on to what matters. Let go of the rest.
4. Take action.
What can you do about your worry? Make a list of 10 things you can do. If there is an action you can take, take it. If there is nothing you can do, see #2.
5. Ask for help.
If you can’t see through your worry, if it’s eating you up on the inside and you can not let it go, ask someone you love for help or join a community of people who want to help. Try the MindBodyWise Living Room.
6. Know what’s best for you.
Sometimes we worry because of what other people say, or even because of what we think they think. Worry less about their opinions by knowing your heart. I find great inspiration and guidance from hearing other people’s stories, talking to friends, and listening to advice, but when I want to know what’s best for me, I put my hands on my heart and turn to the person who knows me best.
7. Move your body.
Take a walk. Go to a yoga class. Turn on your favorite music and dance around your house. Climb a mountain. Literally shake off the worry by moving.
8. Read a book.
Sometimes all it takes to get out of the trap is a little distraction. Shut down the internet and read a book. Get lost in a love story, or read something that transports you to a different time and place. If you can’t remove your worries, remove yourself from them.
9. Help someone else.
Get out of your head. Stop thinking about yourself. Volunteer locally, make sandwiches for your homeless community, or donate to a cause you believe in. The simplest way to stop thinking about yourself is to think about someone else.
10. Come back to love.
When you feel trapped by worry, come back to love. When you notice you are in the worry trap, think one good loving thought. Back burner the worry and think about who you love, what you love, and how you love. Shift your thoughts.
Apply these recommendations to your usual worries and the worries we’ve experienced over the last several weeks and months. The practice is the same.
If you are stuck in the worry trap, take the steps necessary to break free. You deserve to lay your head on your pillow at the end of the day and rest easy. You deserve to engage in ordinary moments during the day that result in laughter, new ideas, and long-lasting memories. You deserve to be free and only you can choose to make that happen.