My a-ha moment came at 2:30 a.m.
I’d been thrashing around, sleepless, in my bed for hours, consumed with worry. I was the editor of the local newspaper at the time and I just knew I had screwed up a story. Why hadn’t I done this? Why hadn’t I checked that? Why, why, why?
And then it dawned on me: “Jackie,” I told myself, “the paper has already been printed. It’s already being delivered. There is absolutely nothing you can do about it now. But when you get into the office in the morning, you can read the story and decide then how to fix it.”
Magical! And real and common-sensical, too. I had a plan. Within minutes, I was asleep. And the next morning, when I anxiously picked up the paper to see how badly I’d screwed up, I had my second epiphany:
There was absolutely nothing wrong with the story. Absolutely. Nothing.
Worry is useless
All that worry, all that tossing and turning, all that sleeplessness, all that self-flagellation — all of it was for nothing. Useless.
That incident changed my life. I won’t say I never worry about anything anymore, but I have reduced it significantly. All I have to do is remember that sleepless night and can quickly bring most worries under control.
If you’ve ever lost any sleep, upset your stomach, given yourself hives or snapped at the innocent because of worry, here are some tips that can help you get over it faster and — who knows? — maybe even permanently.
Check your thinking
We sometimes heap stress and anxiety on ourselves by the way we think about things. And more often than not, these thoughts will be negative. These negative feelings won’t be doing your health or wellness any favors, and if this continues for a long period of time, it could prove to be damaging. Do any of these examples resonate with you?
- All or nothing: “If I don’t ace this test, I’m a failure.”
- Overgeneralization: “I didn’t get the job — I’ll never get hired anywhere ever again!”
- Filtering out and discounting the positive: “Sure, I got a new client today — complete luck! — but everything else went into the toilet.”
- Expecting the worst: “They say gas prices are going up again. How will I be able to make sales calls?”
- “Shoulding” on yourself: “I should work more hours.”
- Labeling: “I am a total loser. I’m so stupid, I can’t do anything right.”
- Everything is your fault: “If only I had told her to lock her car, someone wouldn’t have stolen her GPS!”
If you are a slave to your thought process, ask yourself these questions:
- Is it true or am I indulging in magical thinking?
- Is there a way I can frame it more positively, more realistically?
- How will worrying actually help with this?
- If my friend was worried about the same thing, what would I tell him? (I love this last one; it really helps you disassociate yourself from your own situation.)
Create a Worry Period
Worry can absolutely ruin your entire day, particularly if something huge is going on in your life — a major illness (yours or a loved one’s), financial difficulties, a relationship going bad and so on. One way to combat it is to create a Worry Period every day. Set aside 20-30 minutes to just sit and think about what’s troubling you. Don’t make it too late in the day, because you don’t want it to bump up too close to bedtime.
And before your Worry Period, whenever you start to worry about something, jot it down, tell yourself, “I’ll worry about this later,” and move on. When your Worry Period rolls around, look at the notes you’ve made during the day. Ask yourself:
- Is this worry something that’s happening in my life right now (like a medical crisis) or is it something I think may happen in the future (such as being too poor to retire)?
- If it’s some future worry, what is the likelihood it will really happen? Put your feelings aside for a moment and review the facts. Put a percentage on how likely your future worry will come true.
- Can I do something about it? This is really the key to overcoming worry. I cannot stress this enough: Action is the antidote to worry.
- If there is something I can do, what steps do I need to take to change it?
And one final tip, learned from the late Wayne Dyer: When you climb into bed at night, don’t review what went wrong. Find three things that went right. I don’t mind telling you that when I first tried this, I could not for the life of me think of three things that went right. That was as much an epiphany as worrying about the accuracy of a news story that I had no way to correct.
What have you found to be the most effective way to banish worry from your life? Please share — I’d love to have more techniques myself!