We can’t stop worrying. Why do we do this to ourselves? Worrying doesn’t fix or change anything.
A worry story
Here’s an example. Let’s say you are flying from Los Angeles to New York City and you have a connecting flight on the way. Your first flight left late and you worry that you might miss your connecting flight. You imagine how you’ll have to run from one gate to the next for any possibility of catching your next flight. Next, you worry about what’s going to happen if you miss your flight. You think about how you’ll have to reschedule a meeting you are going to miss, and you remind yourself to cancel your hotel or ride service. You worry if the airline will compensate you for the delay. You worry about how hard it is going to be to find another flight especially when everyone else on your flight is delayed too.
And then you land early and everything is fine.
Everything is fine except you just spent the last two hours anticipating everything that could go wrong and now you are worn out because you worried your way into exhaustion. You imagined the worst and even though it didn’t happen, you are drained physically and emotionally.
Now, let’s say you did in fact miss your connecting flight. How did the worrying serve you? Instead of losing yourself in worry or worst case scenarios, you could have made a quick list of things you’d need to do if you did missed your flight and then carry on … calm, cool and collected.
I know we worry about bigger, scarier things than missing a flight, but in the end it’s the same story. We are usually worrying about things that never happen, making ourselves feel crappy in the process.
Five ways to help you stop worrying
Pick one or try all of these things when you feel like your worry is pointless (spoiler alert: all worry is pointless).
1. Acknowledge the worry.
The moment you notice you are worrying, acknowledge it. Describe to yourself what you are worrying about. Ask yourself if there is something you can do to remedy whatever you are worrying about. Ask yourself if worrying is serving any purpose.
2. Take some sort of action.
Make a list of things you want to remember to do if the things that you are worrying about happens. This will stop your mind from trying to think about all the things, which leads to more worry. Just write them down, even if they seem silly.
3. Distract yourself.
If you’ve asked yourself the questions above but can’t let go of your worries, temporarily distract yourself. Intentionally shift your mind’s attention by reading a book, listening to a guided meditation, calling a friend or watching a movie.
4. Create a daily practice.
To combat the pointless practice of worrying, create a daily practice that helps you calm your mind. Create a morning routine of stretching, meditating and writing, or an evening routine to help you prepare for sleep. Commit to consistency over intensity as you create a daily practice that will help your mind rest when it’s time to rest. It will also help you notice when you are caught in the worry trap so you can get out more quickly.
5. Get present.
The things you are worrying about haven’t happened. You’ve moved into the future … a future that you cannot predict or worry yourself in or out of. Bring yourself back to the present by placing your hands on your heart or by taking a big deep breath. Feel your feet on the ground.
How something ends up never depends on how much you worry about it. When you are worrying and when you are working your way out of worry, be gentle with yourself. Oncoming worry may feel like it’s out of your control, but you can ease out of it and after a while of intentionally letting go of worry, it will subside.