We’re never going to be worry-free, but our happiness and well-being depend on learning to control it. If there’s a universal method for controlling worry, I haven’t come across it; we each have to experiment to find out what works best for us.
The most effective antidote for worry seems to be to get busy doing something that requires both physical and mental activity, such as playing a sport. Others hook up their devices and go for a walk or a run. One friend of mine has a punching bag in his office and another bag in his basement at home, and finds that a few minutes pounding the bag helps him control worry. I’ve often wondered whom he thinks about while he’s doing that.
There’s a difference between concern and worry. There are many things in life about which we should be concerned, but there’s nothing about which we should be continually worried. I think it was Dale Carnegie who said that concern is fore-thought but worry is fear-thought. By refusing to let concern rise to the level of worry we’re more apt to come up with solutions to problems, whereas worrying is a counter-productive waste of time. I’ve heard it said that worry is when your stomach is firing bullets and your brain is firing blanks.
A lot of worry is caused by trying to make decisions before having enough information on which to base them. My favourite method of controlling worry is to carefully consider what the causes of the problem are, what all possible solutions are, what the best solution is likely to be, and what action I’m going to take.
Another effective method is based on the realization that when we’re worried about something we’ve probably already considered the worst that can happen. So don’t stop there, think about what the odds are on the worst happening, and then think about what steps can be taken to improve the odds in your favour. Next, develop an action plan to implement those steps, and then get on with it.
A common mistake leading to unnecessary worry is the human tendency to read big implications into little facts. Usually, whatever we’re going through isn’t really as bad as we think. If we’re working on a way to handle a situation, there’s nothing to be gained by worrying about it. Just consider the number of things you worried about that never happened or that didn’t turn out to be as bad as you expected.
Even the consequences of problems that can’t be completely resolved can usually be mitigated by thinking calmly about a logical course of action and setting about following it. If we’re capable of handling a situation, there’s no need to continue worrying about it.
The depth of our worry about something ultimately depends on how much time we spend thinking about it. It’s always better to get busy doing something about it. It’s often helpful to ask yourself how much this will matter six months from now.
The most senseless worry of all is worrying about something that we can’t do anything about. Not only is it a waste of time, but worrying about things that we can’t do anything about will adversely affect our dealing with those that we can do something about.
When I catch myself obsessing over something that I can’t really do anything about, I make an appointment with myself to worry about it later. I set aside a time in my mind (I never actually enter the “appointment” on my calendar), say fifteen minutes at 2:30 the next day, during which I plan to worry intensely. If the worry creeps back in before then, I remind myself to put if off until the appointed time. What usually happens is that when 2:30 the next day rolls around something else is occupying my thoughts and the appointment never enters my mind. On the rare occasion when I do remember it, one of two things usually happens: after a few seconds my mind wanders off on something else, or I will actually come up with a useful perspective on the situation.
No matter which road we take we’re going to miss something, so we should never waste time wishing we’d taken another one. Never worry about what you’ve lost; instead concentrate on what you have left and what you can do with that. The occasional disappointment is a part of life.