There are lots of things to worry about – everything from paying the bills, to a big presentation at work, to government dysfunction, can cause us to worry. We lose sleep thinking about all of the bad things that could happen.
But here’s the deal about worrying: While we’re freaking out about the horrible scenarios in our heads, our mind is in the future, not paying attention to those around us. We can’t fully experience connection, joy, love, friendship, beauty, or other yummy things.
So how do we dial down the worrying?
BREATHE! Take a few good, deep breaths. That’s the first step anytime we want to start getting a grip. Once we do that, we can begin to focus on other steps.
One trick is to create a Worry Time. If your mind keeps wanting to worry, schedule that into your day. No, really. Set a reminder for the time you’ve set aside. If you start to worry at other times, gently remind yourself that you have worry scheduled at, say, 7:00 that evening. Decide how long you’re willing to worry and set your alarm to let you know when Worry Time is up. Make sure you keep your appointment and allow the worry to come out, but then shift your attention to something else when the time is over.
Sounds pretty silly, but it really can help. We’re so used to letting worry take over at any time of day (or night), it feels very artificial to schedule time for it. That’s part of the point – we become aware how much time we spend on free-floating worry and begin to rein that in.
Once we’ve done our Worry Time, it’s helpful to take a few minutes to see if there is anything we need to harvest from our imaginings. Is there a kernel within the worry that needs to be attended to? Maybe we worried about finances and need to create a budget to make sure we have enough money to pay bills when they’re due. If we worried about our presentation at work, we can schedule time to practice it in front of a supportive colleague. Worry about kids or grand-kids may translate into getting more involved with their schooling, or buying life insurance.
Sometimes, our worries can feel overwhelming. If so, it’s time to do a reality check. A concept introduced by Steven Covey can help: Draw two circles, one within the other. The larger circle represents all of those things, large and small, that we care about. This circle of concern may include things like a healthy family, safety, enough money to live on, a world without hunger, freedom, a large snowpack, and so on. Within all of those categories, what are the things we, ourselves, could actually do to make a difference? That’s our circle of influence, the smaller circle (it’s always smaller, so no worries).
Anything outside our circle of influence is, by definition, outside our control to affect, so worrying about it is a waste of time. We can take the time and energy we’ve used in worrying and redirect it into doing more where we can actually make a difference.
It’s a funny thing – when we’re taking action on things that are important to us, we’re less inclined to worry about all the rest. When we know we’ve done all we reasonably can for now, we can be more available and relaxed with those we love. And this will certainly help us get along better.