I worry too much. It can work as a strength, sometimes—-read our article on the power of being a defensive pessimist—-but it can be a drain. Sometimes it can take away energy from actually solving a problem. Last week, I spent so much time worrying about a big project and all the things that could go wrong that I could barely muster the energy to finish the requirements. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy! Here are some tips on how to get worry under control.
Understand the source of worry
It’s not just the problem per se, but how you interpret it—and this has roots that can go way back to childhood. If your parents were overprotective, or if you had to play the role of the adult too early (like taking care of a parent who is sick) then you will end up more prone to worrying. Studies also show that kids whose parents were divorced are more likely to develop anxiety disorders.
Another factor is the kind of security or attention you got when you were growing up. Having parents who were not consistently around, or were emotionally distant or emotionally erratic, can give you a feeling that the world isn’t a safe place.
Given this, worriers tend to be “hypervigilant” in an attempt to prevent bad things from happening. There is a sense that worrying helps keeping things under control, and a great sense of responsibility that it is “my job” to fix problems before they explode.
Need to make a choice
The fact is there will always be something to worry about—that’s just the world we live in. The only way you can stop worrying is if you decide to let go, for yourself. Consider the health effects: stomach problems, fatigue, higher risk for heart ailments and depression.
A worrier’s action plan
First, write down all the things you usually worry about. Identify which of those lead to productive and unproductive worry—or, which ones leads to action and better choices, and which ones lead to nothing except stress and a lot of sleepless night. For example, it does help to think about your retirement fund, but it doesn’t help to think about whether or not you’ll get cancer before you’re 50.
Second, accept that uncertainty is a part of life and that you can focus on the things you can do and enjoy.
Third, increase your tolerance for discomfort and ambiguity by taking risks that will make you happy. For example, try something new or go out of your way to make new friends. You train yourself to get out of the comfort zone, so your coping strategy and confidence improves. For example, instead of obsessing that you might lose your job, taking a positive job risk—signing up for a class, sending out resumes just to “see what’s out there—can help you realize, “Hey, I can do this, it’s not as bad as I thought.”
If you are faced with ambiguity (waiting for a job offer, or going through a financial problem) and aren’t sure how things will work out, ask yourself: “What can I do right now to make my life happier?” You may not be able to know or control what happens, but you can improve your quality of life right at this moment.
Photo from solomonsseal.wordpress.com