it gives you something to do, but never gets you anywhere.
I was chatting with a friend the other day about the concept of worrying. As a reformed self-diagnosed compulsive worrier myself, I am intimately aware of the thoughts, feelings, and actions that worry can bring to our lives.
I am sure we can all guess the negative effects of worrying: it creates tension, poor sleep, irritability, fatigue, problems concentrating, and general unhappiness. The ironic thing is that if we are to look back over our lives, most of the things we worried about 10 years ago NEVER EVER EVEN HAPPENED.
What the heck? If worrying is so friggin’ unhealthy, then why do we do it?
From an evolutionary perspective, it is pretty easy to see WHY we worry. In order for us to survive as a species, we were consumed with things that we today take for granted. From finding food to finding cures for our diseases, we have solved most of our major survival problems for the most part.
But our brains haven’t caught up. We still have the inherent flight or fight mode and we also have more luxurious lives, leaving us time to sit around and worry about things that will never even happen or that may have already happened in the past.
Then there has to be SOME benefit to worry if so many of us do it, right? Yes. There are positive consequences. It helps you feel that you can plan for potential problems. It gives you a sense of control over the outcome of situations in your life. When our futures look uncertain to us, we think worrying can prevent something terrible from happening.
We think worrying helps us make sure that we don’t miss a flight, a work deadline, a friend’s birthday. We think worrying prevents us from getting sick, losing someone we care about, or screwing up at work.
The truth is that we can worry but we still don’t have control over whether these things might happen! We can’t deal with this uncertainty. So we worry. And we worry. And we worry. We use our crazy imaginations to make up every possible outcome – we get a sore throat and think we will die of cancer. We don’t hear from our children and we think they died in a car accident.
We worry because we think we can control something that is uncontrollable! Then it compounds itself when bad things DON’T happen when we DID worry. So we think “it’s a good thing I worried, because it didn’t happen. If I hadn’t worried, the bad thing might have happened!”
So it becomes a fun worry loop that perpetuates itself. And goes around and around.
How can we change this worry loop? There are 4 things that we can do to get off the rocking chair worry loop:
Worrying is just a bad habit. It will take practice to worry less but you can do it. It will require commitment. Just when we are determined to leave our worries behind, our mind will almost certainly return to the worry cycle. Our thoughts will return to our worries, just as our minds will wander from the breath when we meditate. We can set an intention, and then return to it when we notice our mind has drifted. We can't eliminate all worries, but we can choose where we direct our attention.
So now I ask you, command joy community – what do you find yourself worrying about and what steps can you make to change? I look forward to reading your comments below!