How to Worry Better

If we can’t cure it, let’s get better at it.

We’re in the golden age of tracking. We track our steps, our sleep, our calories, our carbs, our screen time… But one thing we don’t track – the amount of time we spend worrying.  It’s not as though our apple watch can measure the time we spend each day always expecting the worse. What would that notification look like? “Congratulations, you reached your worry goal of 3 hours today!  Would you like to increase your worry goal?” defines worry:  to torment oneself with or suffer with disturbing thoughts.  Worry is self-inflicted mental distress, anguish, agitation, and anxiety.  Why do we do that to ourselves? There’s really no way to eliminate worry completely and some worry serves a purpose in our lives. It can force us to consider things we should change, prepare, or prevent.   Basically, we are all wired to worry. How much we worry depends on factors like genes, environment, and personal mindset. The secret to worrying better lies in striking the right balance in how much we worry. You might be thinking, easier said than done?  Too much worry leads to serious health problems and studies show that 85% of what we worry about never happens. There’s a lot of motivation to get a handle on our worry.

Worry does focus our attention on issues, but it is not problem solving.  Indulging in repetitive thoughts around a problem doesn’t move us closer to the solution. We are better at problem solving when we shift away from worry thinking and into more objective strategic thoughts. For example, instead of worrying about climate change, do something. Write letters to congress, ride a bike, reduce waste, make your home more energy efficient, and switch to reusable products (shopping bags, straws, snack bags).

Worry does help us feel more emotionally prepared for bad news, but that’s deceptive. Worry makes you feel bad so when you get bad news, you don’t have a dramatic shift in emotions.  You just go from already bad to still bad. When we give in to worry, we are basically feeling awful on purpose just to be ready for something awful that never happens. Learn to trust your ability to cope with negative events, if and when they happen. Remember 85% of what we worry about doesn’t happen anyway. The truth is, we are better equipped to deal with problems when we come from a place of emotional well-being rather than a state of anxiety and pessimism. We are more open minded and better able to problem solve when situations do arise. For example, students who worry about failing a test should know that’s it’s good to want to do well on a test.  However, instead of worrying – join a study group and email the professor for extra help or even extra credit opportunities.

Don’t suppress your worries but there’s no need to get stuck in a worry cycle.  Show yourself compassion and get out of it. Find a productive distraction. Get outside. Go for a walk. Go workout. Start a new project. Create something.  Take a breather and come back to your problem when you are feeling more positive and thinking more clearly.

And it things could always be worse. You could be driving with him. 😉

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