In the instant we worry, that is our reality. But there is always an alternative. This post looks at the nature of worry and examines the possibilities available to us to change our reality. It was written after posting a number of recent journal entries from 11 years ago, which show how easily I worried and how limiting it can be.
To begin with, let’s look at the definition of worry:
Verb: To give way to anxiety or unease; allow one’s mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles
Noun: A state of anxiety and uncertainty over actual or potential problems.
We shall return to this later but for the time being note the words I have underlined.
Worry is an indication of the power our thoughts have over us. If we can be distracted, then for the period of the distraction our worries no longer exist. I remember having worrying thoughts about whether I would walk properly again following my back operation in 2001. I could walk, just not quite as well as I used to be able to.
I expressed this concern to Karaj. (See ‘What Do I Have To Offer?‘) He always told us to verbalise what we were thinking rather than go round in circles in our heads. His reply was firm and abrupt: wait for two years. Get a calendar, cross off each day and in two years’ time review the situation. His brusque response snapped me out of my emotions and his suggestion gave me a practical approach to my worry.
Two years later, everything was fine. Crossing off the days had been enough of a distraction to help me through my recovery period without the burden of worry.
In the five historical posts from 11 years ago, which are referenced at the foot of this page, I can be found worrying variously about: what others are thinking; how my life is going to turn out; my career; and even whether a complete stranger would find a table in a busy restaurant. The ultimate conclusion of it all was that I began ‘to worry that all my worrying me is bad for me.’ When you get that far, you know your mind really has the upper hand.
Karaj put it into perspective in the last of the referenced posts (‘Sharing My Progress‘) when he said, ‘You cannot see your courage because you worry.’ It clouds out everything else. We are unable to see clearly or appreciate what is actually happening. The inverted arrogance Karaj mentions in the same post reinforced the situation, meaning I was incapable of seeing, being and appreciating who I really am.
Returning to the definition of worry at the top of the page, there are three factors highlighted by the underlined words. They are: choice, mind and status of the problem.
At the moment we begin to worry, we also have a choice not to. If you are worried about a current or future event, rather than ‘give way‘ to it, actively choose not to worry. The post ‘Infinite Future‘ looks at this in more detail.
There are a number of posts in this blog (see the ‘Mind’ category) which allude to how effective the mind can be at messing with us. That’s what it does best. Know this and we are already better off. Being aware of it means being less likely to ‘allow one’s mind‘ to do what it likes.
Status of the Problem
Actual – if you have a real problem then do whatever you can to sort it out. Worrying is not going to improve your situation.
Potential – if it hasn’t happened yet, you have time to prepare for it. Preparation helps to take away the anxiety. If, however, the problem is unlikely to occur, then why speculate and why worry at all?
(Note: speculation is not the same as prediction.)
In TA terms, worrying is Child ego state. Move out of this ego state and into the Adult ego state, the one from which you deal with present situations without emotion, but with reason, analysis and appropriate action.
All of the above helps us to draw up the following check list of what to do with worry:
- Recognise it
There are occasions when we don’t even realise we are worrying. It becomes normal and goes undetected. Be aware of this and you will be more able to spot the worry early.
- Observe it
This is very effective and works on the principle explained here. When you observe yourself worrying, the worry changes, losing much of its power over you. Writing your worries down every time they occur aids this process.
- Question it
Is it worry or is it a genuine need to address something? The difference between the two is an example of what is referred to in the entry, ‘Controlled Experiments‘. If it’s a genuine need to act, then act. If not, then relax.
- Research it
Find out as much information as you can to establish the facts regarding the cause of your worry. Only then can you make an informed decision on how best to go about dealing with the situation.
- Accept it
Fighting it will not help. Accept that you are worried. This has a similar effect to observing: the worry is more likely to disappear. Acceptance does not mean you are passive. It means you remain calm and are able to deal with the situation from the Adult ego state.
Always a good idea. Relaxing will have a much more positive effect on any outcome than worrying.
- Be Patient
Give yourself time. Don’t be in a hurry to correct, change or achieve something just because you think it will get rid of your worry. If you do that, the chances are high that you will make a mistake which will lead to more worry. Also, as with the example with the calendar, time allows you to become accustomed to new situations, which often helps.
- Take Action
Find out if there is anything you can do to alleviate the problem about which you are worrying. If there is, do it.
- Go Back to Basics
Do what you know works. Even if you think it is a waste of time. Those things work because they work. Examples are the routines and rituals we use to establish stability in our lives. For example, conscious breathing.
- Get Another Perspective
Talk to someone you trust and get their input. Listen to what they say.
- Find Something Better to Do
My journals are full of references to the benefit of physical work to get us out of our thoughts and focused on something more constructive or beneficial. Do something physical. If you can’t find anything, juggle. If you can’t juggle, learn.
- Review it
In following a worry to its conclusion, you gather evidence to use in the future. Each time you do that you build a stronger argument against worrying next time. For example, knowing now that my career has sorted itself out without me needing to do anything other than focus on what I was doing, means I need not have worried. Furthermore, it means it will continue to do so and that other aspects of my life will also sort themselves out if I have a similar focus.
The reality of worry is that there is always something we can do to help ourselves. This list provides ways do that, but perhaps the simplest way to resolve our worries is just to choose a different reality.