Banish the worry wart

Worrying is like riding a rocking horse — it doesn’t get you anywhere. It is, however, a guaranteed way to torment yourself. I should know; I used to be a champion worrier. And then I realised that 99.9% of the things I worried about never actually happened and those that did weren’t nearly as bad as I’d imagined — over and over and over again. All worrying does is waste megawatts of mental energy, ruin your composure and damage your health.

Not all worrying is bad of course. Constructive worry can alert you to danger, prompt you to take constructive action to prevent what you’re worrying about from happening, and prod you to make a contingency plan so that you know what to do should that event occur. Sensible risk management.

It’s the destructive, obsessive worry that should, ah, worry you. It’s exhausting. It can drain you and paralyse you from taking any useful action. It can steal your sleep, making you tired, short tempered and fat — when you miss out on sleep, your metabolism slows down by up to 20% the next day. It can make you tense and give you headaches, hypertension and raised blood pressure. It can lower your self-confidence and make you feel anxious, depressed and discouraged.

Here’s how to let go of your worries so that these terrible things don’t happen to you:

  • Don’t worry about the future. Stop the ‘What if …’ thoughts. When you’re worried about things that might happen, ask yourself two questions. 1) What’s the likelihood of this occurring? 2) What can I do now to prevent it occurring? When you can’t do anything about it, take a deep breath and say, ‘Okay, I’ve worried enough about that now’. Then direct your thoughts to something pleasant or better still, stand up and do something; when you’re busy, you don’t have time to worry.
  • Don’t worry about the present. Stop worrying about things that are happening now and take some constructive action instead. When you’re stuck in traffic that is going to make you late for an appointment, phone ahead to warn them you’re delayed. Then relax. When you can’t do anything about what’s happening, chill out. Take a few deep breaths and roll with it.
  • Don’t worry about the past. Stop worrying about things that have happened. You can’t change the past but you can learn from it. When you find yourself replaying something embarrassing over and over again in your mind’s eye or telling yourself how stupid you are because you didn’t do this or say that, play that tape one more time. See where you went wrong and figure out a better approach to take next time you’re in a similar situation. Then let it go.

Refuse to fill your mind with horrors that probably won’t happen or that in the end, turn out not to be as horrible as you imagined. Worrying about events you can’t change, control or influence is a waste of time that only makes you miserable. Silence that rocking horse of worry.

Things you can affect — now, they’re another matter entirely. Turn those worries into positive plans and actions by figuring out what you need to do and do it.