Keeping worry in check

Worry is a misuse of imagination

I am a recovering worrier.

I used to tell myself (and others), “It’s not worrying! It’s called being prepared and thinking things through in anticipation.” Raise your hand if this sounds familiar.

Don’t get me wrong. Thinking ahead, considering scenarios and being prepared are good skills to have. But where this takes a turn to worry-town is when it becomes hyper-vigilance applied to everything indiscriminately, and the concern for what lies ahead in the unknown becomes the enemy.

Worry can often be a habitual reaction to avoiding discomfort or other painful situations. Born from past suffering, we steel ourselves to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The illusion of preparation mask the discomfort of being out of control.

The reality is, most of the bad things you anticipate never come to be. But when we worry excessively, they might as well have since we put ourselves through the anguish anyway. It’s as though pre-experiencing all the bad stuff makes it seem not so bad when it finally happens. But if you’re going to live through it, how about waiting for the real thing?

So, what to do? For me, it all comes down to interrupting the worry merry-go-round that spins a million miles a minute in the mind. Once I that happens, I open up the door for more rational thoughts to enter the space.

Here are a couple things I do daily to get a grip. It didn’t happen overnight, but with time and practice, it’s become a lot better.

Journal. I write the shit out of my worries and anxieties. I write, and write, and write some more. And then I keep writing. The act of writing breaks the cycle by forcing me to slow down. Have you ever vocalized something and thought, “it sounded way better in my head”? Well, the opposite can happen too. Worries have a way of sounding way more dire and horrible inside. Externalize it and see if it still holds up. The other helpful thing about journalling is being able to reflect back on past entries to see patterns or reoccurring behaviour. This brings more awareness and the opportunity to adjust going forward.

Mediation. Yeah, I get it. I’m sure you’re tired of people telling you to mediate. But it really works and it’s not a hippie or religious thing. At the beginning, I couldn’t even go two minutes without my mind wandering. With continued effort, meditation has taught me to sustain attention in the present moment, strengthening my cognitive ability to regulate thoughts and emotions.

It’s all about baby steps. Instead of expecting yourself to sit still for seven hours at some retreat, how about just focusing on your breath for one minute? Or, do an activity that has mediation built in, like yoga. If you find the silence deafening, listen to someone else’s soothing voice in a guided meditation. Like any workout regimen, start small, work your way up, and stay consistent.

I have a couple other worry busting tools but these are the two that make the biggest difference daily. Do you have any that work for you? I’d love to hear them!

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