Working with Our Worries
Do you ever get trapped in repetitive thought patterns? Do you often imagine worst-case scenarios or the many ways life could go wrong? While our ability to forecast dangers is at the heart of problem solving, we can also get caught on a merry-go-round of anxieties. This tendency is more than just a nuisance; it can zap our joy and even rewire the brain. Research shows that the more often we entertain fear-based thinking the easier it is for our minds to leap there.
Conversely, the more often we center ourselves and soothe worry the quicker our brain will calm down in the future. For this reason, we need to be deliberate about how we think!
You know better than anyone what causes you excess worry. Do you feel more fearful after watching the news? Do you gather so many opinions from others that you feel paralyzed in making your own decision? Consider for a moment what starts or exacerbates your anxiety cycles. Beyond that, here are other ideas to try:
1. Be mindful.
When a worry hits, try a mental stop sign. Take notice of the sights, smells, and sounds around you. Focus on your breathing. Tune in deeply to the present and notice that in this moment, you’re probably just fine.
2. Create places of comfort.
If you pray, it can be helpful to have a one-word prayer that you can repeat during these moments. “Peace,” “trust,” “safe,” or any word that is meaningful between you and God is appropriate. If you aren’t religious, focus on a cherished memory or an imagined place of peace. You can use images of the ocean, a forest, or a hug from someone who knows and loves you. When the brain imagines something, the feelings associated with the daydream are actually experienced. For easier access, list these mental images or words and carry them with you on an index card or smart-phone.
3. Release it.
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus
Life isn’t predictable and we cause ourselves anguish when we insist it conform to our ideas. This being the case, notice your expectations of others, and also notice when you use the words “must” or “should” in your thinking. Consider releasing these and being more open to the flow of life. Research reveals that we over-estimate how severely a negative event will affect us, because we are much more resilient and adaptable than we think we are.