If you want to jump right to the part where I teach you how to stop worrying in 4 simple steps, click here.
I know what you are thinking: Yeah right, Jasmine! Take off your rose-colored glasses! We are in the world’s worst health crisis! People are suffering and dying! People are unemployed. Protests are happening all over the nation. There are forest fires raging in the West. There’s a high-stakes presidential election coming up. And if that’s not bad enough, things are so divisive socially and politically, it feels like we are on the brink of a civil war. If there is a time to worry, the time is now!
To that I say: You are absolutely right. Now is the perfect time to worry. Worrying seems to be a natural response to a time of great uncertainty, chaos and destruction.
But I have to ask: When was the last time worrying produced a positive outcome for you or anyone else? How does worrying about these external things, that are mostly out of your control, impact your emotional and physical well being? Does worrying empower or disempower your current reality?
You might ask, Are you going to tell me not to worry? I’m not just going to ignore what is happening.
No. I would never tell you not to worry. I believe in fully acknowledging and feeling your emotions because the purpose of emotions are to compel us into action. Worrying is your mind’s way of asking you to do something.
Instead, I am here to ask you: What if there is a better way to exist in this time of great tragedy other than to worry?
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic I felt the way most people around the globe felt: scared, stressed and worried. The worry crept in when my job was shut down due to a COVID-19 case. My mind went into overdrive. Would I get paid for the time away? Was I sick? It intensified when my roommate abruptly announced she was moving out after a brief verbal confrontation. How could I afford to cover her absence when my income was cut by 30-percent? Who would want to move in now?
I felt an incredible surge of worry and with it a feeling of doom, fear and sadness.
Here’s what worrying looked like for me:
- I’m at work facilitating an activity for my class.
- Suddenly, a thought enters my mind. “What if I can’t find a new roommate?” The question causes a visceral physical reaction. My heart sinks and I feel scared. Immediately, a “mind movie” begins. It stars a “future me” afraid and anxious. I’m suffering. I can’t find a roommate. I’ve burned through my savings. The mortgage company is sending me letters. The movie isn’t real, it’s made up, but it feels like a premonition. I believe this “mind movie” is a look into my very real future. I don’t understand that it is “make believe”. That it’s my mind’s attempt to get me to act.
- The mind-movie sends feelings of concern and anxiety coursing through my body. My heart rate rises and I feel scared. I want to take action, but right now, I’m at work and have no option but to continue working.
- A child comes up to me and asks me to play. I’m far from playful, I shoo the child away. Their face betrays their disappointment. I feel guilty. I’m moving around the classroom like a ghost. Physically here, mentally gone.
- The glorious present moment, one filled with laughing children, warmth and support goes ignored for a fantasy-nightmare of a future that doesn’t exist. Because I’m worrying and completely trapped in the fantasy-nightmare of the mind movie, I’m mentally preoccupied. Because I’m not occupying the present moment with my five senses, but am projecting into a made up future, I feel the way I feel when I scroll Youtube videos or Facebook out of boredom: gross and slightly depressed.
- The “mind-movie” is popped when two children start physically fighting. I’m drawn out of my head by the sound of their tears and move into action. I feel ashamed. I should have been anchored in the here and now, perhaps I could have prevented the fight.
Have you found yourself in a worry induced “mind-movie”? Have you felt the residual feelings of “yucky-ness” that remains once the movie is “popped” by external events? Are you interested in controlling your emotional and mental state so that worry doesn’t become (or remain) an unattended guest that is wrecking havoc on your peace of mind and bodily sensations?
Yes? Good. I’m going to teach you how to overcome your “worry-cycle”.
Here is my 4-step process for working consciously with worry and using it as a positive force instead of a negative one.
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1. Ask yourself: What am I worrying about? When you name what you are worried about, it is like you are inviting it to sit down and have a conversation with you. You are giving the object of your worry space to be seen and acknowledged. This is good because it allows your mind to assume a more restful state. Try to narrow down the worry into a phrase: I’m worried about the election results. I’m worried about getting COVID-19. I’m worried about losing my job.
2. Determine what you have control over. As I stated earlier, not all external events are within your control. I would go to say that most of what happens externally happens outside of your control. By determining what you have control over and becoming very clear about it, you are filling your mind and body with empowerment. You can create a plan to focus on only what you can control. Examples: I can only control my vote, I’m going to confirm that I’m registered and know how to doit. I can choose to wear my mask in public at all times and to avoid going out at times that are incredibly busy. I can ask my boss what additional work there is to be done, I can increase my value.
3. Ask yourself: How much of what I’m worried about is an unlikely “worst-case scenario” ? This is a tough question to ask, but one that has the ability to fill you with great peace. Often times we are exaggerating the likelihood of something happening to us or are living as though our “worst case scenario” has already happened or is about to.
For example: When George Floyd was murdered, I was personally reminded of the history and perpetuation of police brutality against people who look like me. I began to worry about my safety and began to get angry at “them” (unknown white people in positions of power and not). But then I had to ask myself: Have I ever had a violent encounter with the police? Am I in one now? What type of interactions am I having with unknown white people now?
By asking these questions I was forced to be reminded that in my present reality I was safe and that my relationships with the white people I encountered were friendly or neutral. Essentially, I could be “at war” with white America in my mind, but be at complete peace with white America in my present life. I would be making up a dangerous reality that doesn’t actually exist.
Essentially, by getting real about the impact of whatever you are worried about, you can critically analyze if the “impact” is simply a mind-movie or if it is a real challenge you are currently facing.
4. Create an “anti- worry reminder”! Ok. An anti-worry reminder is like an affirmation. I know. Affirmations have gotten a bad rap. Sometimes they are used to suppress negative emotions in favor for positive ones. Personally, I think of affirmations as thought patterns that I am choosing to “download” into my psyche. Affirmations, to me are carefully crafted thoughts that I want to embed into my belief system. In this case your “anti-worry reminder” will be used to cut the legs out underneath your “worry-cycle”. It is a strong mental reminder that you can use to combat the worry-cycle.
For instance, if you become worried about the election results you can formulate an anti-worry reminder that says “I will not outsource my emotional wellbeing and happiness to whether or not my elected official is in office.”
Your worry about COVID-19 could be soothed by this one,“While COVID-19 is a real threat, by taking the necessary precautions, I dramatically reduce my risk of contraction. Finally, it isn’t healthy for me to fixate on something that I can’t control..”
Finally, for the job you can say, “Job insecurity is not suddenly new now that COVID-19 is here, hypothetically, I could lose my job for a number of reasons, but for now I am working and am finding every way possible to provide value and keep my options open.”
That’s it! How-to stop worrying in 4-simple steps!
The moment I realized that worry was a tool I could use to take actionable steps to solve problems that were bothering me and also served as a barometer for how “tuned in” to the present moment I was, the happier and more joyful I’ve felt. This doesn’t mean that I have some how eliminated negative emotions. That is not the case. In fact, I feel negative emotions with the same intensity and focus as I do positive ones. However, learning how not to worry has freed me of burdening my present emotions and mind with the possibility of the millions of “what-ifs” that plague my mind.
I hope that you are able to use my 4-step process for overcoming worry to transform how you navigate through this incredibly complex world.
How does worry manifest for you? Have you ever taken the time to combat it head on and learn from it?
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