We think, therefore, we worry.
We all have those painful, irritating thoughts — the doubts, the what ifs, the anxious speculation — thoughts that pop up like whack-a-moles and will not be beaten into submission.
I worry about everything from the wellbeing of my child to the additives in my breakfast cereal. But I’m an extreme example; I’ve lived with OCD and anxiety for most of my life. I am not an expert or a therapist (though I’ve been helped tremendously by a few), but I’ve built up some serious stamina and figured out a few secrets to managing worry that can benefit almost anyone.
The best one I’ve found? The worry list. Like its cousins, the grocery list and the to-do list, it helps free your brain for much more important things.
Make that list
Sit down at a time when you’re not likely to be interrupted and write out every last worry that pops into your head. Financial woes? Write it down. Marriage on the rocks? Add it. Haven’t vacuumed in weeks? Add that, too, if it bothers you. No worry is too small to make the worry list.
When you’re finished, file the list away, but take it out and add to it as needed. Getting all those worries and fears out of your head and onto the page is freeing. It’s cathartic. And it’s a finite, tangible way to quantify your worries. Writing them out takes away their power.
Action is worry’s worst enemy. — American proverb
Set aside designated worry time
So you have your list. Now it’s time to sit down and devote some time to worrying.
Sound ridiculous? It is — but it works. You may feel like you already worry constantly — as if your mind is never at ease — but sit down for ten minutes with the goal of intentionally worrying and I’ll bet you won’t be able to do it.
By setting aside designated worry time, you actually help free your mind of worries throughout the rest of the day. If you start to worry during non-worry time, redirect yourself by telling yourself you’ll return to those thoughts during the next designated worry time.
How much time you set aside and how often is up to you; the important piece is to do it consistently.
I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened. — Mark Twain
Realize the worst is (probably) not what you can imagine
Ask yourself this one important question: What’s the worst that can happen? Not in a vague, unspecified, Armageddon-is-coming at some point way. I mean literally and specifically, what is the worst that can happen?
Let’s say you’re worried about losing your job. What will happen if you do? You’ll probably have to look for another one. And maybe you won’t be able to find another one for quite some time, so eventually, you won’t be able to pay the bills. Maybe you’ll lose your house, your significant other, and even your faithful dog, and you’ll be left alone and miserable living in a rusted out van infested with all manner of creepy insects and feral cats.
The point is this: challenge yourself to be absolutely ludicrous. Write your worries down and drag them out to their worst conclusions. By doing this, you reinforce how unlikely such an extreme outcome really is and strike a significant blow to the power of your worries.
Worry is part of life, but with the right tools, you can reduce the distress it causes. All you need is a little time and a powerful little list.