Think you can’t stop worrying? Think again….
A cut out newspaper clipping on a pinboard read:
“If something is worrying you and you can do something about it, do it right away. If you can’t, then stop worrying, because worrying is wasted energy.”How very true! Worrying really can be exhausting. Of course it is a natural response to a stimulus, but if we don’t try to control it, it can spiral out of control and rob us of our day. So often the worrying turns out to have been unnecessary, and even if our fears are confirmed, they would not have been any less so if we had only worried a bit more! For many, worrying can really take a grip and therefore be difficult to manage. So if you are a ‘worrier’, what can you do about it? Do you have to just accept that that is the way you are or can you proactively try to change?
‘Mindfulness’ has quickly become an everyday term, but what does it really mean? The advent and popularity of Mindfulness colouring books may have influenced our perception of it, but it is (according to Wikipedia)
“the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences in the present moment”.
A good example of practising Mindfulness is ‘people watching’. The reason people watching is a relaxing past time is not just because people are interesting, it’s because we can just be in the moment. By being in the moment we put to one side all of the things that we are currently thinking or worrying about. People watching is not always practical or possible, but it is possible to just breathe in and take notice of your surroundings. Really absorb every element of where you currently are, and what is going on around you. How many different sounds are there? What is impacting you at this very minute? The rocking of a train? Trying to avoid the person’s knees in front of you? Lift your eyes up and spend a while taking it all in. What you are looking at, seeing, feeling, smelling, touching, is LIFE, that thing that is happening whilst you are busy planning your future.
If we can put our worries to one side for a moment or two then we can also do it for longer, by keep refocusing on the present moment. Try it when you are driving. It is all too easy to be driving along whilst also crunching thoughts about what we need to do, or to say to someone. Suddenly you realise that you are not actually concentrating 100% on the road. By practising Mindfulness and being in the moment, you become much much more aware of the road, taking in everything you can see, which is how it should be. Your mind will wander again, but say to yourself “be in the moment” and refocus.
Another good strategy is to promise yourself some time when you will focus on what is worrying you, and if you can do something about it you will do it. Allow yourself that time to say ‘why is this bothering me so much? What is at the heart of it? What would my trusted best confidante say? (Or anyone whom you respect/admire). It is that acceptance of ‘this is an issue for me, but I can’t think about it just now. But I will, I will take a break and I will allow myself 15 minutes over a coffee to worry about it and make a decision about what I can do’. Meanwhile, focus on the present moment and the task that is currently to hand, be it cooking, driving, being with a patient, being part of a meeting.
A lot of our worries are founded on misconceptions which then play on our lack of self confidence. A classic example would be when we say good morning to someone and they don’t respond with the same cheery greeting. An immediate response for a worrier would be to think “what have I said/done to upset them? Why are they being off with me?” A far more logical response would be to think “I wonder what has happened since I last saw them to result in their change of mood?” But our fragile egos and our tendency to worry can mean that we put two and two together and get five. Ask yourself “Have I done something to upset them?” If the answer is ‘no’ then let it go, and if it’s appropriate and you get the chance ask them ‘Are you okay?’ That way you are doing something about it.
It is possible to accept the seriousness of a situation without going headlong into ‘full on’ worrying. It is about giving yourself space in order to choose how to respond to something. Keeping a cool head instead of having a knee jerk reaction. It’s interesting that those who appear not to over worry can sometimes be criticised for being ‘too laid back, almost horizontal, laissez faire’, when in fact maybe they have the right idea? Maybe their blood pressure will be lower? Maybe they will live longer by not allowing stress hormones to physically impact their bodies? It is surely worth trying to change because apart from anything else, people who worry excessively can actually become tiresome company. The character Mavis from Coronation Street was much mimicked back in the day! So next time you find yourself worrying, ask yourself ‘Can I do something about it?’ If yes, do it, if no, be in the moment and don’t give the worries your precious energy.