I used to be a chronic worrier. Throughout my life, so much time was spent worrying about all sorts of stuff…things that realistically were never going to happen to me or anyone else I know. From the important things to the really mundane things, I wasted my time and attention worrying about everything. I used to tell my Mom, I knew it wasn’t healthy to worry so much. Now that I am muck older I have learned how to keep worry in a healthier place in my mind. I understand this challenge. I know how many people need to learn about managing worry in middle age.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I worried so much about how much I worry. That’s next level worry. I worried I would be a terrible, overbearing mom with the amount of worry I would have. How could I raise a child, teach it to walk, speak, potty train, read, write, and so on and so on…. So much worry. Something had to change.
My Biggest Advice for People Who Worry Too Much – Don’t Worry Ahead
During my pregnancy, I made a VERY conscious decision to start by only worrying about very short-term things. I started by taking each day at a time and did not focus on the birth or the actual raising of a child at all, instead I focused each day on what mattered that day.
After awhile, I noticed the angsty feelings of worry lessening as I continued to only focus on each day as it came. For things that required planning, like the new nursery or getting my job ready for me to be gone on maternity leave, I allowed myself to think ahead. And I kept those tasks to very specific on planning and made lists to keep my ideas in order without allowing myself to having creeping “what-if” worries enter my head.
Fast forward 18 years, and now I reflect back on those days. It turns out that Don’t Worry Ahead mantra from my pregnancy became my life mantra. I still live with this as my guiding force.
There is no expiration Date on Worry
My parents still call me from across the country in Florida, to tell me when bad weather is coming my way in California (we rarely have bad weather) or when there is terrible news happening near me. (Which is often, because California always has crazy news.) My mom always ends our phone calls with “Be careful and I love you.” She’ll never stop worrying about me or my daughters. She is forever a Mom and Grandma. I recognize that worry has no expiration date. That sounds exhausting, but it is also comforting to know that I am loved.
I recognize as my kids get older that I will worry about them forever. I still try to not worry ahead and I am always excited for them and each new (potentially worrisome) chapter of their life arrives. Driving, dating, college, etc. – I’m taking it one day, and one breath, at a time.
Tips to Manage Worry
1. Instead of just worrying, problem solve
Worrying on it’s own is an inefficient way to problem-solve. Instead try these ways to solve the actual issue:
- Problem identification What is my concern?
- Goal definition What do I want to achieve or change?
- Brainstorming What can I do?
- Consequences What might happen?
- Decision How should I do it?
- Implementation Do it!
- Evaluation Did it work?
2. Don’t create “what if” scenarios
It’s easy to start imagining all the things that can go wrong. Be realistic about the likelihood of these things actually happening. When you catch yourself asking “what if…?” take a moment and remind yourself that you’re creating worry that may not be necessary and is probably not productive. We can all create chaotic scenarios in our heads if we let ourselves. It’s better to recognize this habit and remind ourselves these are usually very unlikely to occur.
When you think “what if…”, change your mindset to “how can I…?” Consider how you can make choices that will be proactively dealing with situations causing you worry.
3. Stop thinking your worry is always helpful
Being a persistent worrier is not an alternative to practical problem solving. Don’t kid yourself into thinking your worry is useful or is going to solve an issue in a practical way. It just becomes worry for the sake of worry and can cause unnecessary stress.
4. Learn to Accept Uncertainty
If you can truly begin to accept that life is full of uncertainty, you will be better able to control anxieties that can appear. Understanding and accepting that unexpected things are going to happen will make your life much easier. If you really need help with managing uncertainty, here are some helpful tips.
5. Find Your Happy Place
Negative moods fuel worrying. Negative moods include anxiety, sadness, anger, guilt, shame, and even physical states such as tiredness and pain. If you must worry, try not to do so when in negative moods because your worrying will be more difficult to control and more difficult to stop. If you find yourself worrying in a negative mood, immediately try to do something to lift your mood. Here are 7 Ways to Boost Your Mood Right Now
6. Acknowledge Worrisome Thoughts
When you start to worry, don’t suppress the thoughts. Recognize them, analyze whether they are actually realistic things to worry about in the moment and if so proactively find actual solutions. If they are not, then move on to something more useful to do. Spending minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years worrying for the sake of worrying is completely useless.
7. Manage the times you Worry
A lot of us bottle up all kinds of issues all day long. We don’t take the time to diligently deal with concerns we have and by the time its bedtime we’ve got a running list of worrying events filling our heads. This list will invariably keep us up all night with worry we’re doing nothing constructive to solve.
To control this cycle, set aside a time of the day to address all the things causing your worry. Call it your Worry Moment. Give it enough time to address each one and while you may not solve worrying issues, list each one and recognize that you may need to address it tomorrow.
8. Don’t Lose Sleep Worrying
You need your sleep. I need my sleep. A helpful suggestions is to keep a pen and paper next to the bed. When you cannot sleep because. you’re worried about something, write it down and commit to addressing it tomorrow. It will wait, and usually late night worry is very ineffectual anyhow. You’re not solving any problems tonight. For more helpful suggestions to get better sleep check out this article.
9. Stop Worrying Ahead
The number 1 biggest advice I give myself (and the only advice I would ever dare give to an expectant parent) is to STOP WORRYING AHEAD. Stay in the moment.
If you need to plan ahead then that is fine but keep the worry out of it. Make lists of what you know is coming in life: vacations, retirement, parties, grandkids etc. Plan what you need to but don’t spend energy worrying without having a plan of action.
*Excerpts taken from www.psychologytoday.com and Graham C.L. Davey Ph.D. “Why We Worry”.