Worrying has always been easy for me ever since I was a small child. But a few years ago, my mindset shifted when I realised that being anxious was about trying to force an outcome over which I had no control. It also took away valuable mental energy I would need for problem solving. So I began to try out what would stop the worry cycle in its tracks. Here are my tried and true methods for Managing Worry:
1) Make a list. When I feel my mind going into over-drive, I get out my notebook and pen and write each worry down, however big or small they may seem. Seeing worries down on paper means that we can more clearly see that not all problems are equal. Some are just minor concerns, like what to wear to dinner on Saturday night. And others are problems that can be solved by doing something, like booking a dentist appointment. Others are not something I can do anything about – which I will come to shortly….
2) Choose a ‘worry window’. An important part of this process is to have a regular time when you make a date with your worries. Before I got off the worry merry-go-round, I would take a ride multiple times a day – equal parts exhausting and unnecessary. Now, I’ve learnt to select my ‘worry window’. By giving ourselves five minutes to worry to our heart’s content, we can reduce our chances of worrying throughout the day – ‘Too late!’ I think to myself. ‘Worries that haven’t made the list today will have to wait.’
3) Identify priorities. Once I’ve taken the time to write my worries down, I can take stock of which are priorities, those that are unimportant, and those that I can do something about. Importantly, I can cross the unimportant worries off the list (perhaps they just needed a little moment in the limelight) and make mini action plans for the ones I can act upon. And if I can’t do anything, I know I need to accept that difficulty with gentleness and self-compassion, which may prove the tougher task.
My list of worries is usually varied but often includes the same worry over and over again. We are creatures of habit after all. My mum’s chemotherapy treatment, understandably, has been an ongoing worry. It’s a priority and there’s nothing I can do to stop this. No action plan here. I remind myself daily to be self-compassionate – of course I am worried about my mum: seeing a loved one suffer is hard.
I haven’t managed to do a food shop for this evening, and I won’t get the chance to. Not a priority but my action plan is to send my husband and daughter a text message to ask them (nicely) if they can pick something up. This is obviously not a serious problem in the same league as mum’s chemotherapy. It can be resolved easily without worry, and a simple spring into action.
4) Accepting we can’t change things, like my mother’s cancer treatment, is hard. It feels like an angry, fiery knot in my stomach. Many have grappled with how best to do so. Some find the approach of the twelve-step Alcoholics Anonymous programme helpful. I like the serenity prayer: ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference’. Resolve to focus on where you can make a difference, rather than dwelling on things you cannot change. You might find meditation a gentle way to let go of the worries you can’t act upon.
5) Finally, have you noticed how often what you worry about never actually happens? In a few weeks’ or months’ time take a look at today’s ‘worry window’. More often than not, what we thought would trouble us turns out to be tolerable, or just never happens. I’m reminded of a quote by Mark Twain:
‘I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them have never happened.’
I hope you found my Methods for Managing Worry helpful. I’d love to know, if you try it out do tweet me @RachelKellyNet.