Breaking the Worry Habit
Mar 30, 2020 01:14PM
By John Koenig
Almost half of us worry more than we wish and a large percentage of those will admit they are even worried about worrying. Typical worries include problems with finances, health, relationship issues, work as well as topics like the national political scene, global warming and the coronavirus. The cost of worry includes health issues, difficulty sleeping, loss of productivity and general unhappiness and lack of joy.
The common thread among most topics of worry is that they are about the future, either immediate or distant. Worry, by definition, is an answer to the question “What if…?” and is usually not “What if I win the lottery?”, “What if I get the girl or guy of my dreams?” or “What if the future is even better than the past?” Rather, worry is a particular kind of fear—a ruminating dread of the future.
THE WORRY HABIT
Though the act of worry is completely unproductive, it gives people the illusion of being in control. A worrier thinks that by worrying they are either preparing to deal with a situation or, as if through magical thinking, the worrying will somehow erase the problem. Planning, on the other hand, is a very different activity. Planning is productive and adaptive. Planning leads to action, and action may make a difference in our life; worry won’t.
Ridding ourselves of the worry habit starts by acknowledging that the habit itself is as much, if not more, of a threat to our well-being than whatever we are worried about. Worry leads to high blood pressure, sleepless nights and, at its worst, a feeling of impending doom. Worry is worse than a waste of time—it is a destructive use of our time.
When you are ready to break the worry habit before it breaks you, apply these five simple principles to your most pressing worry:
Start by considering (ideally write down) the worst-case outcome of your worry. Then accept it. This may sound counter intuitive. It may even sound a little crazy and insensitive. But worry is often an attempt to avoid something. By accepting the worst possible outcome, we begin to connect with our power to deal with life on life’s terms and may actually start to feel a sense of peace.
- Consider (ideally write down) alternative outcomes that are less severe than the worst case you have been picturing. Perhaps even think of possibilities where nothing bad at all happens and things turn out well.
- Accept that right now you literally do not know what is going to happen. Train yourself to live in the present instead of a negative and terrifying future fantasy of your own creation.
- Then instead of wasting energy in worry, plan (ideally in written form) on how to take action to avoid the problem, minimize its effect or develop ways to handle it effectively.
- Put a “stop loss order” on worry. Some people find it helpful to even schedule a time for worry with a beginning and, importantly, an end.
Other anti-worry measures include talking to a friend or therapist, exercise, prayer and meditation, focusing on another’s needs, watching a comedy or just going for a walk.
One of the best books on the topic of worry (and how to not worry) was written more than 60 years ago by Dale Carnegie. Carnegie’s bestseller, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, lays out simple principles designed to help the chronic worrier stop the habit of worry. He begins by suggesting that worry itself is the problem, not whatever topic the worrier thinks is keeping him or her up at night.
These principles are simple, yet powerful, but work only when—and if—they are applied, so start implementing them today.
John Koenig is a board-certified hypnotist who has helped Rhode Islanders beat the worry habit and make other important personal changes since 1998. For more information, visit GreaterRhodeIslandHypnosisTraining.com. For private sessions at his Warwick Medical Building office, email [email protected]