Worry is a misuse of imagination.
We can literally worry ourselves sick, as worry and the resulting stress and anxiety affect our health and impair our immune systems. Worry is mental distress or agitation from concern about something imagined in the future, and the majority of things we worry about never come to fruition. It’s wasted time that causes us to suffer needlessly.
Some lessons came to me later in life, but learning to break the habit of worry has been liberating. Better late than never.
I used to believe it was my job to worry, and that it kept me and my loved ones safe. I felt victim to my mind and the tendency to worry. If I found myself in a calm moment, I even worried if I wasn’t worried. There must be something I should have been worried about. I had a habit of worry.
I believed parents were supposed to worry and that reflected my love and care. But I was wrong. I did not realize I was sending the wrong message to my kids when I told them of my worries for them. Instead of trusting them to be strong and capable, my worry suggested they were incapable of managing life’s obstacles as I planted my concerns in their minds. That’s not what love does.
While some of the things we worry about support us in getting helpful things done, much worry is futile and a waste of time. For those with generalized anxiety disorder, 91.4% of worries never came true, according to a study by ScienceDirect.
Younger people tend to worry more than older people. According to a study by ScienceDirect. Sixty-three full days were lost to worry and stress for the average millennial in 2016. That is two whole months spent on worry. With the increase of anxiety in society since 2020, I’m betting the number is even higher today.
While some worry can motivate us and help us plan, most worry is unproductive, and can lead to paralysis and procrastination. We can feel frozen by worry.
Thankfully, we can change our tendencies of thought, and rewire our brains, due to their plastic or changeable nature. What we practice grows stronger, and we can practice something different from worry.
Not everything we think is true. Becoming aware of the tendency to worry and challenging those worrisome thoughts is essential.
There are several helpful things to do to break the habit of worry:
• Mindfulness: Learning to observe thoughts and realize many of them aren’t true is important. We have thoughts, but we are not our thoughts.
• Observe worrying thoughts without reacting to them or judging them.
• Acknowledge worries and make a list of them.
• Analyse the worries to see if they’re productive or not. There are some of life’s concerns we can do something about, and some not.
• Identify actions to be taken for productive worries, along with a time-line.
• Learn to accept uncertainty.
• Interrupt the worry cycle by finding productive activity to redirect thinking.
• Exercise: Merely going for a walk can help break the worry cycle.
I’ve found it powerful to reverse-imagine when I feel concern now, and instead of worry, I choose to send a blessing or prayer instead of worry. This practice has been empowering and offers me a feeling of peace instead of upset. In this I feel I’m adding to the good rather than laying my worry on others.
Life changes and becomes more pleasurable when we learn to stop worrying. Changing the wiring of our brain takes time and practice, and is best done with self-compassion and a good dose of gentle humour.
If we’re really stuck, a good therapist can help.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.