How to Worry Your Way to Less Worry
Can you use your worry to become more peaceful? The answer is yes. But how and why? Read on to find out. You’ll learn an easy practice to help you break the cycle of worry and move towards a more productive state.
Photo by Yeshi Kangrang on Unsplash
Worry is a habit and while any habit can be broken, it does take effort and it takes understanding. More than just a habit, worry is a practice – we actually train our brains to worry. This is what Dr. Sarah McKay says on the subject: “Worry is repeating a thought over and over again. You are practicing that thought, and with practice it gets easier to experience the thought over time. You can practice positive thoughts and emotions instead.”
Some of us are natural born worriers. Others have undergone enough stress and/or trauma to slowly transform us into worriers. Our emotional fault lines and weaknesses will determine which issues trigger us most strongly and most often. Rabbi Abraham Twersky has compared these fault lines to a fold in a piece of paper. Yes, you can unfold and smooth out the paper after it’s been folded, but the crease will be there forever.
“I worry all day, every day about everything.”
Hopefully, few of us have reached such a level of worry that we’re unable to break out of the worry loop, but anyone who is a worrier knows it’s something that can’t be ignored. Debilitating worry requires professional attention, but even if worry is not interfering with daily functioning in a major way, it does impact quality of life. You can’t focus on what’s important to you, on your goals and priorities. You can’t enjoy yourself fully. You feel pulled to negative distractions such as online activities and to harmful addictions such as overeating, alcohol or excessive shopping. We can also be pulled to sideways distractions such as excessive learning or researching and other forms of busyness. Sideways distractions try to convince us we are dealing with the issue that worry us, but are a form of procrastination. They are especially common if our worry is a practical one [that actually exist] rather than a hypothetical one [an imagined future event that may or may not occur].
Worry is a form of self protection
As a matter of fact, our worry habit is trying [ineffectively] to protect us. Worry is a mechanism that aims to decrease uncertainty and increase certainty and a feeling that things are under control, but has the opposite effect – it actually makes us feel less certain and more anxious. Therefore, it would serve us well to understand and learn to cope with worry in a more effective manner.
Worry at an all-time high
Worry and anxiety are at an all-time high. Anxiety disorders rose a whopping 25% in the wake of the pandemic. The world has always been an uncertain place, but now, with our hyper-connected lifestyles, over and over again we are told how unsafe and volatile the situation is everywhere.
Yes, we can disconnect from the news and limit Internet activities. Yes, we can breathe mindfully and yes, we can use any number of very effective methods to deal with worry. I know I do. But unless we take another more primary step, we’re building on a shaky foundation, because we’re ignoring one fundamental fact. We fear and resist worry. We’re worried that we worry too much. We’ve been told over and over again that it’s not good for us – so the minute we experience the worry take hold, we go into resistance. Before we can deal with worry, we have to stop resisting it. Then we can use it as a trigger to switch to more positive thoughts and emotions.
Before you commit to managing your worry, reframe it
Before we come to how to deal with worry, we need to reframe worry as an opportunity rather than a fatal flaw. We need to embrace the dragon of worry and learn to use it as an ally. And indeed, if we recall that the purpose of worry is to make us feel safer, meaning that it is looking out for us, we can then view it as an unskilled ally rather than the enemy.
So what can we do during when we notice we’re worrying again?
Because our minds and bodies are caught in a loop while we’re worrying, we can break out by using the worry loop to start a practice that will use worry to train our brain to worry less. I’ve created a useful tool you can use when you notice that worry has a hold over your mind. This is a dual-purpose tool – it calms the worry, and it also uses worry to teach us to worry less. It’s based on the acronym PEACE – so it’s easy to pull out and use when needed, and will help redirect your state of mind and your actions.
Opting for PEACE instead of worry
The acronym PEACE stand for:
- Pause your thoughts
- Embody ease with body relaxation and slow breathing
- Adopt an attitude of Arugamama
- Carry on calmly and transition from inner to outer focus
- End with compassion
We’ll examine each of these steps briefly. [A detailed explanaition of this tool will be available shortly.]
- Pause your thoughts: the first step is to be aware that you’re in a thought loop that’s taking you nowhere, entrenching your harmful thinking patterns and making them habitual. Even if what you’re worried about is something real rather than hypothetical, you’re not going to come up with any effective solutions when you approach the issue with a worried frame of mind. Worry will give you tunnel vision and limit our thinking to the ineffective solutions we’ve tried and failed at before. It’s far better at his point to pause our thinking. Let the thoughts just flow past, but don’t allow yourself to get attached to any of the fear-filled thoughts racing in your mind.
- Embody ease by relaxing your body and slowing your breathing: take your awareness from your thoughts to your body and your breathing. Scan your body and relax any tension as far as possible. Every person carries their tension in different areas, but many of us tense our shoulder and neck areas. Shallow, upper chest breathing is also part of the stress response, and along with relaxing any tension in our bodies, we should practice slow abdominal breathing to help us break out of the negative thought loop.
- Adopt an attitude of Arugamama. Arugamama is a Japanese concept of awareness of the naturalness of feelings and the non-judgmental acceptance of our feelings. Furthermore, it is an acceptance of the way things are without resistance and struggle or seeking to control what is beyond our control. But in no way is it a passive state. It is active acceptance which leads to taking the actions that are right for each moment.
- Carry on calmly and transition from inner to outer focus. If we are practicing Arugamama properly, it will lead naturally to a calm choice to carry on with life. As far as our conscious energy is concerned, we shift from an inner to an outer focus. Self awareness is important, but as everything good, too much of it, too much focus on our inner life, is a form of self-absorption. It’s time to just get on with life and, as phrased by the British WWII poster, “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
- Emerge with compassion. The best way to emerge from this practice is with compassion. Firstly, have compassion for yourself and your struggles. Refuse to judge yourself harshly whether or not you succeeded in dealing with your worry attack as you would have liked. Then, connect to your common humanity – you are not the only person struggling with anxiety and worry.
You can end with the Metta statement:
May all beings everywhere experience true peace
Want to journey through life with more grace and grit? Check out my course: https://destinate-navigate-create.teachable.com/p/undauntable