Thursday, July 05, 2020
Stress-busters: How to worry less and live more
Today’s world creates anxiety like never before. It’s time to fight back.
I have to start this article with a confession. For most of my life, I have been a world champion worrier. I was able to worry about almost anything. And, if I didn’t have anything specific to worry about, I would worry that I must have missed what I ought to be fretting over. The workplace, of course, provides an endless menu of possible sources of worry, which is why it’s often so stressful. Anxiety produces stress and stress produces anxiety. They feed off each other, making a perpetual motion machine of worrying. If anything good can come out of all that anxiety, it might be this: my experience-based ideas on how and why to quit worrying so much.Most worriers believe that they either must worry (they have genuine reasons to do so), or that they cannot stop themselves, even if they see it doesn’t make sense. Let’s begin with understanding the causes of worry and whether it might be of some use. Until you are convinced that worrying is of no benefit to you, you won’t give it up anyway.
- Worrying is a form of superstition. A great deal of worrying is driven by the unstated fear that, if you don’t worry about some issue, you’ll somehow be punished for your slipshod attitude; that some universal force will spot your dereliction of worrying duty and bring you back into line by making all the bad things happen. Of course, once you recognize that this kind of crazy, childish behavior lies behind much of the anxiety you’re plaguing yourself with, it’s tough to go on doing it without laughing.
- Worrying is totally useless as a way to solve whatever the problem is. As Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich once said (not Kurt Vonnegut as I was told originally): “ . . . worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 pm on some idle Tuesday.”
- Worrying takes a heap of energy. Despite being useless in any practical sense, worrying absorbs a great deal of mental and even physical energy. After a day spent worrying, you will be as tired as if you had tried to calculate the value of pi to 300 decimal places while running a marathon. And you will still have achieved nothing.
- Worrying is amazingly distracting. While you are worrying, your mind cannot settle on anything else. The worrying constantly gets in the way of whatever you try to do. People tell you things—sometimes important things. You don’t hear them or you forget them within seconds, because your mind is totally taken up with that wretched source of anxiety.
- Don’t accept that you are helpless. I won’t say it will be easy to give it up, but worrying is just a habit. Perhaps it would be better to call it an addiction. Like all addictions, it’s going to be tough to quit, but you can do it. There will likely be some “cold turkey” to get through, but just think about all that extra energy and enjoyment of life that you’ll have once you’re no longer a slave to continual anxieties.
- Practice letting go. Worrying is all about control. People worry because something is threatening to happen that they don’t like. If they can do something to stop it happening they will. There’s no cause to worry then, it’s over. But, in all too many cases, we aren’t able to stop whatever it is threatening us: we aren’t able to be in control. So we worry instead. It’s a form of quasi-control. By worrying about whatever it is, we imagine all the ways we would control it, if only we could. The more you are able to accept things the way they are, the less you will worry. No one ever worried about anything they simply accepted. And accepting whatever it is will probably be the best way to start responding to it positively as well, so you’ll get a double benefit.
- Most worries are totally imaginary. We can all imagine truly terrible outcomes. They rarely happen. One way to curb your worries is to sit down and deliberately imagine the very worst that your mind can come up with. Two things will likely result: you’ll realize how ridiculous the whole thing is; and everything else will seem pretty tame by comparison.
- Worries don’t exist. So you don’t need to waste time over them. It’s obvious. If a problem exists, it isn’t a worry, it’s a fact. You have to cope with it some way and that becomes an exercise in problem-solving, not worrying. Worries are always about what may happen, but hasn’t yet. Therefore, they don’t exist. When, and if, they do, they’ll be problems to be solved. Until then, they are nothing but rogue neurons in your brain.
- Try planning instead. Planning is considering what might reasonably happen and getting yourself ready. It’s practical and useful. Even if events don’t work out that way, you will probably have learned something useful in the process. Worrying is imagining what will almost certainly never happen, and then imagining how you would fail to deal with that imaginary outcome.
- Never feel guilty about not worrying. Not only is guilt a totally useless and entirely negative emotion, but you have nothing whatever to feel guilty about. To feel guilty about not worrying is like berating yourself for not thinking about ten yellow goldfishes balancing on the nose of an alligator. Both are simply thoughts, and ridiculous ones too. Why should you feel guilty about not thinking them?
- Don’t think too much about what other people have achieved. It will only make you feel dissatisfied and start you worrying again. At least 50% of the good things that happen to people is pure chance; the rest is a mixture of solid effort and unexpectedly good outcomes from what began as mistakes. Do what you do and be happy.
- If you start to take yourself seriously, take two aspirin and lie down in a darkened room until the fit passes. What do you know about yourself for certain? Most of your ideas don’t work, most of your hopes and plans fail, most of your triumphs were luck, and most of your choices were either made for you by others or happened by default. And you take a person like that seriously? All that stuff is just to impress other people, right? There was an old saying that went: “No one is a hero to his valet.” Hardly anyone has a valet nowadays, but you get my drift.
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