When I was young, when anybody offered me anything, my mother believed they were just being nice.
Her response was always to inundate me with questions and commentary: You told them no, didn’t you? You can’t accept that kind of help. Obviously, they were just being nice and I’m sure they felt like they had to say that. Nobody really wants to do that for you.
It didn’t matter what the offer was — a ride, gift, coffee, or compliment — my mom had a way of second-guessing everyone’s motives and seeing a downside to it all.
I was an already awkward kid who didn’t get her autism diagnosis before becoming a mom herself. It was tough to grasp the concept of other people fooling or deceiving me… so I couldn’t understand my mother’s reasoning. I also couldn’t see why my mom believed she knew what anybody else was thinking.
Even so? Having a mother who constantly expected the worst led me to feel like I also must expect the worst. As if that was the most responsible thing to do.
Ultimately, my mother’s constant questioning of motives encouraged me to become a chronic worrier myself. For a long time, I was constantly afraid of anything I didn’t know or understand.
My mother taught me how to worry and expect the worst from life.
She taught me how to live in fear.
Now that I’m a grown woman and single mother, it’s even easier to step into habitual worry. My worries aren’t special. For the most part, we all have similar concerns about failure in life. Fears of financial emergencies. Health issues.
Worry does bad things to everybody.
ICYMI, worry is a quick ticket to feeling terrible. Worry is stress, and unmanaged stress wreaks havoc on every aspect of our lives. When we worry, we don’t function as well as we could.
Worry often impairs our sleep, moods, and ability to make positive lifestyle decisions. It frequently takes us from a state of thriving and thrusts us into a state of hardly coping.
Some people feel worry in their bones. As with depression, they may have unexplained aches and pains. And, of course, worry is another symptom of generalized anxiety disorder — a condition which deserves attention but is often overlooked as no big deal.
Worry is unnecessary work.
Some people believe that if you’re not worried about something, you must not really care about the outcome. But worrying and caring are not the same thing. It’s worth noting that caring is part of any cultivation process whereas worrying lands somewhere between impotence and destruction.
Yes, you can worry something to death when your fear and doubt crowds out all positive efforts. You can kill a project before it even gets off the ground. You can also squander an opportunity all because your worrying led you to do nothing.
You don’t have to take it.
Worry is a natural human trait, but we don’t all have to succumb to it. And there are tangible things we all can do to prevent excessive worry from overtaking our lives.
None of us are better off with more worry ruling our lives. In fact, worry often acts as a magnet for all other negative thoughts. Fear, doubt, and bad attitudes can quickly pile up if you give worry the room to grow.
A lot of people accept most worry in their life as unavoidable, but it’s not. Worry is often a bad habit that only you can break for yourself.
If worry often feels like an unavoidable choice, the cool thing is you don’t have to choose it anymore.
1. Ask yourself why you worry.
My mother is a chronic worrier who taught me to be one too. She taught me how to excessively worry by leading my focus to negative thought patterns.
Negative thought patterns include all-or-nothing thinking, or believing that we can know what other people think without even asking them. Or making the assumption that we will always fail.
Nobody benefits from negative thoughts. Sure, businesses have risk mitigation teams to suss out potential problems, but there’s a reason why those individuals in those roles are called analysts rather than… worriers.
Worrying carries the expectation that we are going to fail. It is not on par with risk analysis to create actionable steps just in case things don’t go according to plan. Worry doesn’t give anyone or anything the benefit of a doubt. And it doesn’t respond to disappointment in a positive way.
If you ask yourself why you worry, the root will always rest with your negative thoughts rather than positive ones.
2. Choose your mindset.
In order to create a mindset where worry cannot thrive, you have to quit feeding the negative thoughts and instead start fostering a more positive outlook.
None of us can foresee into the future, and nobody can control everything in their world. But you can change your thinking by acknowledging these basic truths.
One of the best ways to make peace with the fact that we can’t control the future is by looking back on all we’ve survived despite whatever did go wrong and how much was always beyond our control.
We’ve all failed before and we will all fail again, but that doesn’t need to be a bad thing. We can look at our past and the fact that we’re still here as evidence of our strength.
You can choose to be the type of person who makes delicious things out of the lemons life sends your way. This isn’t some positive mumbo jumbo — it’s how successful people live their lives. They learn from their failures and find a way to use the bad stuff for something good.
3. Remember this is a journey.
It definitely takes time to become a more positive person. I haven’t met anyone who’s done it overnight. The good news, however, is that it does get easier with practice.
Just like worry attracts more negativity, hope and positivity attract more light. So it’s true that you can’t just will yourself into no more worrying, much like the way you cannot force yourself to relax. But there are real habits you can try to help crowd out the worry and make space for a healthier mindset.
4. Educate yourself about the negative thought patterns you tend to use.
There are dozens of books and thousands of articles which cover the various types of cognitive distortion we all tend to use. It helps to recognize and label those negative thoughts, and even “talk back” to remind yourself why those thoughts aren’t based in reality. Feeling Good is one of the best books to cover bad attitudes which are often called “stinkin thinkin.”
5. Give your brain a breather.
Whenever negative thoughts and worry begin to multiply in your mind, it’s a good idea to take a break. We may not be able to immediately reset our minds, but we can often hit pause. Take time out to exercise, learn how to meditate, or practice progressive muscle relaxation.
Such activities (and many other relaxation techniques) not only help in the moment but they can also help our minds better adapt to more positive thoughts overall and over time.
6. Create boundaries for your worry.
There are a variety of methods to set limits on your worries so they do not rule your life. Some people find it most effective to give themselves a specific time of day where they allow themselves to worry. Others commit to writing them down and then going over that list for only 15–20 minutes a day.
The point is to acknowledge your worries without letting them rule or ruin your entire day. You might look at it as giving yourself an allowance for your worry or fearsome thoughts.
Since you only have so much energy and so many hours in a day, you don’t want your worries to occupy much more than a fraction of your resources, right?
7. Label your worries.
It also helps to recognize what kind of worry you are dealing with. It’s one thing to worry that you won’t reach a certain writing goal, and it’s something else entirely different to worry about your eventual death.
Some worries are more manageable than others, and we can make plans to better deal with specific outcomes. But other worries lie far beyond our control. If we worry about our own death or that of a loved one, we’re focusing on something we simply cannot solve.
There is no benefit to worrying about how something unsolvable might happen.
8. Talk out your worries.
Lots of people don’t want to talk about their worries, and that’s too bad. It’s important to recognize that everybody has concerns, but the real issue is how we handle them. It’s incredibly beneficial to talk out your worries with a licensed therapist, and under the right circumstances, it’s even helpful to talk to a friend.
Whenever we bring up our worries, we’ve got to recognize and address our cognitive distortions . If we are open to positive feedback, we can take back control and get out of the pit of chronic worry.
Keeping worries inside is a common coping mechanism that often backfires. A lot of people think that talking about their worries will give those worries more power, but in reality, it’s often the reverse.
If we put our worries into perspective by talking about them, we can regain our power.
Bottling up worries inside allows them to grow until they seem larger than life. But a little honesty can go a long way and help release some of the pressure.
Now, let it go.
No, that’s not just a pithy mantra for Elsa. The most successful people on the planet focus on the positive steps they can take in any given situation. You’re no better off when you worry, you’re just more stressed.
So start putting limits on your worries and root out your negative thinking to foster a healthier mindset where your success can truly thrive.