Most of us experience worry at one time or another. Worrying is considered to be a normal part of daily life in today’s society. ADictionary.com definition of worry is “to torment oneself with or suffer from disturbing thoughts…” Why is it considered normal to torment oneself or to suffer disturbing thoughts? One possible explanation is that we are conditioned to expect and accept worry. We worry about our jobs, our relationships, our children, our finances and a multitude of other things.” When we worry, the most common advice that we are offered is “don’t’ worry”.
Most people do not want to worry. But if we truly want to stop worrying there are some steps that we can take to relieve our anxiety. The most important thing that I learned about worry is that the most relevant emotion underlying worry is fear. We are afraid that a future negative event will occur, or something that we want to happen will not happen. Both of these fears arise from negative expectations about the future.
Because the future is of necessity uncertain and unknown, we often attempt to reduce our anxiety about it by preparing for the worst thing that could happen. Being prepared for the worst is not in itself a bad thing. But if we become preoccupied with negative thoughts about the worst case scenario our preparation can easily slip into unproductive “disturbing thoughts”. Dwelling on negative thoughts is the surest way to “torment” ourselves.
The reality is that the great majority of our worst case scenarios do not happen at all or happen in ways that we could not have predicted even with the shiniest of crystal balls. There is no greater penalty for worrying than the needless anxiety that we experience that destroys our ability to enjoy the present moment. Fear and anxiety do not solve our problems. In fact they greatly interfere with our ability to think clearly and to create innovative solutions to the problem. While we can think about the future, we can only cope with the present. The solutions to all of our future problems lie in the actions and attitudes that we can only take in the here and now.
We frequently labor under the misconception that if we think about something long and hard enough that we will arrive at a solution. The truth is that many situations work themselves out without any conscious action on our part. Often the solution comes to us spontaneously or when we are relaxed or otherwise distracted. If we are patient enough to allow things to work themselves out it is possible to avoid much of the anxiety associated with not knowing. Patience requires letting go of our need for control. In many situations the best action might be not to act. Poorly thought out actions motivated by fear are often more destructive than no action at all
The first step to overcoming worry is to confront the fear that the situation evokes. Being clear about what we are afraid of can enable us to summon the courage to face it squarely. Rarely are our fears provoked by true life or death situations. Even if a situation involves life or death decisions, fear will only increase the probability of a negative outcome.The most effective way to overcome worry is to be aware of the fear that underlies worry. Fundamentally it is the fear of the unknown and unknowable that is at the root of our anxiety. The best way to overcome our fear is to calmly devise the best response that we can to a given situation and to let go of attempting to prepare for all of the possible negative outcomes. Life is too short to spend most of it worrying. A relaxed and peaceful mind is much better at creating workable and effective solutions to our “problems”.