I come from a family of worriers. And somewhere along the way, I picked up the lovely control freak trademark as well. Yep, I’m a worrying control freak…it’s the perfect storm.
I find these characteristics are particularly strong during the holidays. Despite the fact that it’s “the most wonderful time of the year,” it can also be a time of stress. The pressures of crazy malls, finding the perfect gift, hectic travel schedules, and unpredictable weather, can kick even your average worrier into high gear.
Generally, worry tends to stem from concern for the future. We dwell on how we will handle a potential situation. And we fret over what possible disasters might arise during any given event.
Unfortunately, when we get sucked into the pattern of “what if,” we cannot enjoy the present. And when it comes down to it, it’s the “now” that really matters.
So if living in the “now” brings happiness, why do we spend so much time worrying?
Psychology Today offers five compelling reasons, all of which revolve around one vicious cycle. And that is a cycle of reward.
Yes, reward. As Seth Gillihan Ph.D. explains, “[e]ach time we worry and nothing bad happens, our mind connects worry with preventing harm.” In other words, “Worry —> nothing bad happens.”
So what causes this worry? What makes our mind fret over the “what ifs?” And even more importantly, what can we do about it?
Read on to discover four proven strategies to stop worrying and start living today.
4 strategies to stop worrying and start living today
Perhaps one of the biggest causes for worry is fear of the unknown.
Let me state the obvious; we can’t predict the future. And for many of us, this fact causes significant worry. We have no idea what might happen to us our partner, our children, our family, our job, our pets, our finances, our country, or our world…
We worry we’ll lose what matters most – our family, our health, our financial security, our job, our independence etc. And we end up catastrophizing worst-case scenarios about every situation.
In other words, the “what ifs” set in.
Luckily, when this question shows up, there is a simple, effective strategy to quiet those nagging thoughts.
And what’s the secret? Make a plan.
Treat each worry – no matter how outrageous – like a legitimate concern.
Every time a new worry arises, write it in a journal. Pay attention to how often these different concerns arise. Do you see any patterns when they barge in? What triggers each one?
Then, create a realistic response to that situation. And do this no matter how irrational the original worry. By having a sound, reliable plan to even the worst-case scenario, you will have a much easier time silencing irrational thoughts. Because when they decide to show up and trigger an alarm, you can quickly shut them down with your detailed plan.
If financial stability is a major concern, for example, take time to plan a detailed budget. Create a spreadsheet of your regular income. Then, take note of your outgoing expenses, excess/“fun time” spending, and how much you want to save each month.
This way, when financial worries float into your head, you can let them simply pass by. You know you have a plan in place, so there’s no need to worry.
Time Waits for No One
Another worry that often plagues my mind is loss of time. I feel like I’m constantly racing the clock, whether it’s finishing a lecture before class, completing an article before the end of the semester, getting to a meeting on time, or having dinner on the table before “hangry” hits the household.
Do you ever feel like you’re racing the clock, or unable to keep up?
My anxiety over time (or lack of time) became a real issue. In fact, I often found myself losing sleep over it. (And of course, this added additional worry, because I was running out of time for sleep due to tossing and turning all night.) <insert eye roll here.>
As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I finally found the solution to my problem through a method called time blocking.
Time blocking involves looking at your to-do list for the day and breaking that list into clear sections of time.
So for example, I might schedule research from 7:30-11:00 a.m., emails from 11:15-12:00, grading from 12:30-2, lecture prep from 2:15-3:30, and yoga from 4:00-5:15.
I find this strategy particularly effective because I know exactly when I’ll attend to each task throughout the day. And this silences the unnecessary worry of, “what if I don’t get to XYZ in time?”
(Want to know more about time blocking? Read more here!)
Another major cause of worry is, “what if I forget?” Or, “did I forget to…?”
“Did I lock the door before I left?” “Uh oh, did I unplug my hair straightener?” “What if I forget to send that email?” “I can’t forget about the meeting on Tuesday morning!”
Do any of these thoughts sound familiar?
Worries like this used to plague my mind. They’d circle around and around, and drain me of my energy.
Fortunately, I’ve learned to combat these concerns in a couple of different ways. In terms of the “what if I forget” question, I rely heavily on my planner, and my good friend, Siri.
The moment I come across something I need to remember, I simply grab my phone, hold down the center button, and ask Siri to remind me. For example, if I say, “remind me to email Ryan about airline tickets at 1:30 p.m.” then Siri adds that note to my reminders. Once 1:30 rolls around, my phone buzzes and a banner pops up on my screen that says, “Email Ryan about airline tickets.” Simply genius. Siri, what would I do without you?
If I’m at my desk, I also add that reminder to my planner. Not only does this provide another visual cue, but also the physical act of writing the information down helps ingrain it deeper in my memory.
Now, my “did I remember to…” worries usually arise with tasks I do on auto-pilot every day. Probably the two most common culprits tend to pop in my head when I snuggle comfortably into bed at night: “Did I lock the front door?” And, “Did I set the coffee pot for tomorrow morning?”
I lay there for a while, trying to reassure myself that I did lock the door. And I did set the coffee pot. But then I usually give in, walk downstairs, and confirm what I already knew; yes, I did lock the door. And yes, I did set the coffee pot. <sigh.>
Now, my strategies for combatting these types of worries are a little over-the-top. But if you ever struggle with the relentless “did I remember tos,” you nevertheless might find them helpful.
First of all, I pause and verbally acknowledge my actions. For example, I’ll say out loud to my husband, “Ryan, I’m locking the front door. So when I ask you tonight before I fall asleep, please confirm that I did.” He’s a great sport, so he does 🙂
The other alternative, if these worries really plague you, is to take a picture.
If you regularly get to work and start fretting, “Oh no! Did I turn off the iron/oven/curling iron?” Take a picture when you unplug the curling iron that morning. You can simply pull up the picture and confirm: “Phew! I did.”
Again, this may seem a bit extreme. But for some people, these concerns cause major distraction, and by taking these very simple steps, you easily can calm that racing mind.
My final major cause for worry is a lack of control. And this is unquestionably one of the most difficult hurdles to overcome. Why? Because as much as I hate to admit it, I can’t control everything.
Now, one of my biggest worries regarding lack of control happens when I’m traveling. And with the holidays coming up, I think a lot of people deal with similar issues.
Most of the time, I worry about what’s happening at home, and whether everything is safe. “Did I leave the bathroom light on?” “Is the heat working properly?” “What if there is a water leak?!”
Fortunately, having my cat, Rascal, has helped tame these concerns considerably. Let me explain…
Rather than bringing Rascal to a “pet hotel” when my husband and I travel, I have someone come to the house each day to check on him. And this is a win-win all around.
Rascal gets to stay where he is comfortable, which is great. Plus, I have someone at the house every day. They get the mail, ensure everything is working properly, turn on and off lights, and make the house seems “lived in,” even when we’re gone.
So to all of my fellow worriers out there, I hear you. I know it’s frustrating, distracting, and can lead to real anxiety. But by planning ahead, managing your time, recognizing what initiates your worries, and creating actionable solutions, you’re on your way to silencing unnecessary concerns once and for all.
So tell me, are you a big worrier? How do you silence the constant “what ifs?” What are your strategies to stop worrying? Share your thoughts below. I’d love to hear them!