I was recently speaking with my friend Barbara about her worrying. She wasn't always a worrier. When she was younger, she never worried about anything. She was carefree, maybe even fearless. She took chances. She ignored risks. She wasn't a daredevil, you wouldn't find her cliff diving, but she also didn't focus on the what-ifs and worry about them.
For her, worrying became a habit. It would start with a small thought that would then replay in her head over and over, looking at all of the dreadful possible outcomes, until it became intense.
I asked her when she started to worry. She couldn't pinpoint exactly when everything changed and said if pressed, she thinks it happened gradually after some of the larger events in her life - having children and watching them become independent, watching loved ones age, and losing others.
Whatever the reason, her worrying had become more intense over time. This past year, it became even worse, finally reaching new heights because of the lockdown due to Covid which left her with much more time to think. Finally, she said, "enough!" She didn't want to be like this anymore and needed to find a solution.
Barbara realizes she can’t eliminate worrying altogether. She knows there is a difference between being prepared and letting potential situations drive her imagination and emotions. Excessive worrying is the latter and it is easy for her to fall into the habit of worrying and very difficult to stop. She tried many different ways to reduce her worrying and nothing seemed to help. So I shared with her my own experience with worrying and a realization I had about it.
Like Barbara, I had also gone through a time where I worried too. One day, I realized that when I worry, I experience the same emotions as if whatever I was worried about actually happened. So, if what I worried about happened, I would go through those same feelings twice! I didn’t want to do that, so now if I begin to worry about something that hasn’t yet happened, I remind myself that:
There is nothing to worry about UNTIL there is actually something to worry about.
This has helped me to greatly reduce my worrying and it has helped Barbara as well.
Leo Tolstoy said, "Remember that there is only one important time and it is NOW." What a brilliant statement. When we worry, we mostly focus on possible future events and rob ourselves of wonderful things that may be happening now.
(Note: Admittedly, this idea won’t help everyone and there are times when someone needs to seek professional help. This is in no way a substitute for seeking professional help when needed and should not be taken as such.)
Photo credits: Mad Magazine / Warner Brothers