‘Goodness gracious me!’ said Henny-Penny; ‘the sky’s a-going to fall; I must go and tell the king,’ from the fable, Henny-Penny (aka Chicken Little).
Do you ever find yourself dwelling on difficulties and worrying about things that might happen?
Maybe you worry about losing your job over a minor incident, or offending someone you care about, or you worry your pet might get hit by a car, or your teen will start doing drugs or worse?
The mind has a way of grabbing hold of a fear, handing it off to the imagination, which, in turn, invents all kinds of potential imminent disasters.
Worry breathes life into the imaginary dramas that could happen taking them to the point where they actually feel real.
A little bit of worry can be healthy and even helpful when it encourages us to take action, for example –
- rehearsing before an important speech,
- researching a company before a job interview, or
- improving communication skills to deal with a difficult person.
Taking action despite our worries helps reduce the worry, builds self-confidence, and can fuel our success.
But when our worry goes unchecked it doesn’t just interfere with our performance, or our ability to think clearly and make sound decisions, it also interferes with our overall well-being.
Excessive worry impacts our health and can negatively impact immune function, adrenals (which regulate blood pressure), sleep, and eating habits, for example.
It can also increase the risk of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, heart disease, and stroke.
Worry is a fact of life and, while we can’t escape it altogether, we can help ensure it doesn’t take up permanent residence inside our mind.
Here are some simple tips to help manage worry:
Embrace uncertainty. At any given moment life can change. Opportunities, rewards, tragedy can all come and go in the blink of an eye. How can we control it all? We can’t. The key to embracing uncertainty is to let go of what’s beyond our control and focus on what is within our control – our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Change your social media feeds. Are your newsfeeds feeding your fears? Luckily, we live in a time where we can control the news we watch. Balance what you currently read with positive news, upbeat outlooks, and feel good stories. You can stay informed without keeping a constant eye on a doomsday clock.
Make friends with your emotions. Suppressing feelings often magnifies and prolongs worry. Robert L. Leahy, Director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy and author of The Worry Cure: 7 Steps to Stop Worry From Stopping You says, “The emotional part of the brain – the amygdala – is suppressed when you worry,” and suggests, “The emotion kicks in later with gastrointestinal symptoms, fatigue or rapid heart rate. Use your emotions; don’t try to get rid of them because when you are crying or angry, you are not worried.”
One study from Penn State University discovered a four-step program to help people take charge of their worries.
Step One: Identify a specific worry.
Step Two: Schedule a time and place to worry, a ‘worry time’.
Step Three: When you find yourself worrying about said worry outside of ‘worry time’ make a concentrated effort to think of something else.
Step Four: Instead of concentrating on the problem use ‘worry time’ to focus on solutions to those worries.
Worry is an inevitable part of life, but it doesn’t have to take over and control our lives.
The next time excessive worry threatens to engulf your thoughts try weaving one of the tips above into your routine and notice the difference in how you feel. Chances are you’ll find a great sense of relief.
Remember Chicken Little? She worried the sky was falling because an acorn landed on her head. She worked herself up, convincing herself and her friends of imminent doom only to discover it was much ado about nothing.
Take a moment to think about how worry negatively influences your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Is ‘the sky a-going to fall’ or is it more likely you’re needlessly worrying about things you can’t control?
Once you make that distinction you free yourself from the burden of worry.
Isn’t it time you let go of your needless worries?