Seeking balance regarding worry
To worry is a natural human experience. How we manage our worries is where many people have difficulty, as though they entered a N.J. circle at an intersection of roads and kept going in circles, never selecting an exit on which to turn off of it. Our doubt about which exit to take causes us to get stuck as we say to ourselves, “What if it is the wrong exit?” This signifies danger to us and triggers the fight, flight or freeze response. We freeze, going in circles. This becomes a pattern and perhaps a metaphor for what we do in other areas of our lives.
If you see this pattern at work in different circumstances or relationships, here are a few thoughts which may help you exit your “circle” more quickly.
Notice your “what if’s”. What is behind the “What if’s” in your mind? Have negative experiences led you to expect negative outcomes in your life? Do you worry about worrying because you think it is unhealthy? Once our adrenal glands really start going, we’re off to the races around that circle again and again. Write down your worries so you can put them out of your mind until it is convenient for you to address them.
Awareness of Imagination. Our mind is powerful in its ability to be creative in developing scary or even tragic scenarios. Consider all the creative movies produced in Hollywood.
Worry takes our imagination and runs with it. Awareness can help you separate rational from worrisome thoughts, enabling you to examine them more objectively.
Future orientation. Yes, worry is about something that has not yet come to pass and possibly never will. It is warning of a potential future. Evaluate each worry based on the likelihood and amount of risk it would entail. Consider what is in your power to control and make decisions accordingly. Decisions can break you out of the indecisive trap of worry, bringing you back to the present moment where thinking is more rational. Some experts recommend planning for “worry sessions” in your schedule as one way to free you from the unending “circle” of worry. Then evaluate your worries rationally.
Embrace your values. Worry actually can be doing you a favor by helping you identify what you value. It shows we care about something, whether it is a relationship, or some other goal we are working toward. Worrying typically is viewed as a problem which heightens our anxiety, however, and hinders us from achieving our goals or improving our relationships.
Rational and realistic evaluation, erring on the side of positive outcomes, can help you see the probabilities and realize your own power to hold to your meaningful values.
Undermines self-confidence. As worry becomes habitual, we grow less confident in our ability to move forward in a positive direction. Self-talk which is positive, much like positive sports psychology where you visualize yourself making the free-throw shot and tell yourself, “I’m good at free throw shots”, even as you step up to take your shot. It works not only for basketball, but nearly all sports in one way or another. It also works with other goals.
What is the worst? Ask yourself that question, what is the worst thing that could happen, and accept it as a possibility. Then interpret the situation as less worrisome. This will lessen the power of the worry in you and empower you to manage the situation. Positive pessimism has received much research in the past twenty years, helping us find solutions to problems before we actually face them. It helps us find the balance we need to think creatively and safely pursue our current priorities. As Tony Robbins said, “Stop being afraid of what could go wrong, and start being excited about what could go right.”
Let worry motivate to take action. Action steps could be things like having fire extinguishers in new houses, knowing where they are, and knowing what you would do if you lost electricity for an extended period of time. Having sufficient food and water, having a plan if you need to leave home, and thinking about how you would communicate with loved ones in an emergency, can all grow out of worries turned into positive action to mitigate the perceived danger.
Acceptance of the unknown. Fear of the unknown often fuels worry, yet everyone lives with a degree of uncertainty in life. The future is unknown to us all, except the certainty of death some day. What do we want to accomplish before then? Go for it!! Just do it, as the Nike ad says. Avoid trying to find certainty in psychics, astrology, Ouija boards, etc., as your uncertainties will only grow and worries will potentially multiply.
Pray more, worry less. Inner peace can help you accept those uncertainties and grow in faith and trust that God has given you the power to manage whatever you face in life. In this context, it can shrink the scope of your worries about something bad happening that you won’t be able to handle. Worries can be turned into prayers of petition, yet you want to end up with prayers of surrender, acceptance and even gratitude. A clearer mind can then help you accept unsolvable uncertainties or solve problems which have solutions.
Practice makes permanent, not perfect. Repetition, repetition, repetition, as the teachers used to say when encouraging memorization of concepts. However, if you are stuck in that circle repeating the wrong things to yourself, it only becomes more deeply ingrained in your brain but does not help you escape. Consider that it takes about three months to really learn and develop a new habit, so it becomes essential to practice, practice, practice the good habits of thinking which lead to less worry and healthier living.
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Jesus in Matthew 6:34
Ronald S. Newman, Ph.D. is a psychologist in South Jersey who now provides teletherapy. He can be reached by mail at: P.O. Box 2148, Vineland, NJ 08362; by email at: email@example.com, or by phone at: 609-567-9022. His blog and other information can be accessed at: www.drronnewman.com.