Worry is defined as the anticipation of a negative future event. Healthy worrying helps us to find a solution to a problem that is likely to arise. This is proactive. However, unhealthy, obsessive worrying can be debilitating, paralyzing and harmful to your health. If you become so focused on the negative, you can’t be objective or calm enough to think clearly and move forward. Worry and fear go hand in hand, and both waste an immeasurable amount of time. And while we can’t turn off worry with the flip of a switch, we can learn to worry less and live more.
Chronic worriers try to predict the future. A Scientific American article on worry points to a study showing that people usually agonize about things that almost never occur. However, the participants in the study often reported that they believed that by over-thinking a possible negative outcome, they had somehow prevented it from happening. Despite this dubious claim, they overlook how much time they waste fixated on the worst possible scenario and stay stuck there, not moving.
The negative effects of worry are not limited to wasted time and energy. According to WebMD, worry can manifest very real physical disorders, including:
- High blood pressure
- Tension headaches
- Cardiovascular problems
LEARNING TO COPE
Most of the things I worried about throughout my life never happened. I also acknowledge having wasted time needlessly feeling anxious and fearful. I’ve always tended to collect worry in case I ran out of things to mull over! If I didn’t have a problem, I would surely cook one up. For years, I fretted about losing my job, even though I never did.
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Finally, after all this useless worry and anguish, my outlook shifted. For instance, I now know that if I lose my job, I’ll find another one. I have to differentiate between real problems and imaginary ones. I can’t claim to have eliminated worry from my life, but I have found some tricks to clear my mind when worry creeps in. Maybe they’ll work for you:
- Practice looking at the bright side. Make a list of positive outcomes to any situation.
- Be objective and try to differentiate proactive concern from unproductive worry.
- Stop trying to predict a catastrophic future. Be more mindful of the reality of your present moment.
- Pick a time of the day to unleash your worry. For instance, at 7p.m. for 30 minutes do all your worrying for the day, then turn it off.
- Write down your worry—the worst that could happen but also the best possible outcome.
- Talk to a close, objective friend, someone who is not involved in whatever it is that’s worrying you.
- Exercise to oxygenate your body and make you feel better. Run, swim, practice yoga, Pilates, you name it—anything that requires you being active and present.
- If worries haunt you at bedtime, read something light and entertaining before you go to sleep or listen to audio books.
Worry is normal, but don’t let it get out of control. Be proactive, assess the situation, and do your best to prevent what you can control. And what about the things you can’t control? Worrying about them won’t change a thing.