At the end of each the year, we hear about songs of the year, people of the year, and books of the year. If there was an Emotion of the Year 2020, I suspect it would be Worried. This is the year where events provoking worry have been harsh and relentless. While we may be on the last leg of the race with coronavirus, other issues – like political and social unrest – appear to be unending.
This article is not intended to stop you from worrying, but to encourage you to worry well. Yes, you read it correctly – you can improve your worry ability. Instead of it controlling you, you can learn to control it.
The danger of uncontrolled worry is that it hijacks our thoughts and begins to push out positive thinking like gratitude and optimism. We’re learning amazing new things about our brain and one discovery is that the brain creates neural pathways when we continually repeat behaviors. The well-traveled pathway of worry can become so deep, Arthur Somers Roche notes it “cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.”
We’ve also learned that we can rewire the brain and create new pathways of healthier habits at any age! This process is called neuroplasticity. Carving out new paths isn’t easy, it requires learning and lots of practice, but it’s worth it when it comes to reducing anxiety and increasing well-being.
- Choose a daily time to worry and connect it to something you already do. For example, I’ll do my worry time right after breakfast.
- Set a timer. Start with 15 minutes and adjust if you need more or less time.
- Have a worry notebook to document your process.
- Start by writing down all of your worries. When you think you’re done, ask again, “Is there anything else?” Just writing the list is a great start to worrying well.
- Sort the list by circling those worries that are out of your control and putting a star by those within your control. (This is an application of the Serenity Prayer.)
- Prioritize the list of worries that are in your control to begin problem-solving.
- Determine your strategy for coping with what is out of your control. This could include applying faith, prayer, meditation, or reflecting on your past success of letting go.
- Increase the time you spend on social media and with people who are accountable, hopeful, and pro-active. Decrease time with sources of worry that cannot be controlled by you.
- As worries arise outside of your chosen time, jot them down so you can focus on them more intentionally during your next worry time.
- Enlist a counselor who can help you overcome barriers that arise while practicing this new habit or if you have a diagnosis of anxiety that may require additional resources.