I’m not a worrier. I never have been and I struggle to understand why others spend so much of their time focused on the worst of things. But I know a lot of worriers. They wonder if they offended someone because they only said “thank you” 35 times for the lovely dinner. They worry they’ll end up alone in a nursing home with no one willing to visit…but they’re only 30 years old and have no good reason to even THINK about a nursing home. That’s their nature and don’t understand why I’m so unconcerned about such matters. In fact, there are medical diagnoses of things such as “excessive worrying disorder” and “chronic worrying syndrome”. This is obviously serious stuff.
First, I’m not going to judge those of you who have the natural inclination to worry. Instead, I want to help you try to reduce that inclination by sharing some things I’ve found have helped those I counsel. Usually they’re dealing with the threat of foreclosure, bankruptcy, job loss, divorce or some other MAJOR issue that definitely qualifies as worry-worthy. So if they can worry a bit less, how can you overcome your tendency to worry using the same methods that work for them?
- Face the worst-case scenario. I learned this one from those who were behind on their bills. They’d heard the horror stories of ruined credit, embarrassing phone calls, nasty letters and other awful experiences. But they didn’t know the REAL worst-case scenario. Once they faced it, they could deal with instead of fretting over it. Things in life aren’t always happy. Things will go wrong. You will get fired or lose a loved one or be given bad news at the doctor’s office. You can’t always have it your way, despite what Burger King claims. The people who are usually able to avoid worrying are the same ones who are able to face the worst-case scenario.
- Ban ignorance. Most worry is the fear of the unknown. Most worry is unnecessary. Think about it – if you tend to worry about things, take stock of how often those things you concerned yourself about came to fruition. I bet the answer is very few of them. Most worry is based on ignorance. In my life, I’ve tried to ban ignorance. This doesn’t mean I know everything, but if something is causing me stress or planting a seed of fear, I try to learn more about it. Doing that helps me tremendously because I then know my enemy and know whether or not he is to be feared. One of the first things I do when I counsel someone facing a big issue that I can help with is to walk them down the path of what could happen. I go over the worst-case scenario (as I mentioned above), then I teach them what to expect and assign them homework to learn more on their own. This gives them the power to face their fear and learn what it’s all about. It’s a lot easier to fight an enemy you know than to worry about it unnecessarily.
- Embrace the prayer of serenity. You’ve seen it embroidered on pillows, framed on walls and probably heard it said a million times. But there really is something to it. There are certain things you simply are NOT in charge of. The prayer of serenity, which begins, “God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other…” (full prayer can be found here). If you aren’t able to change something, why worry about it? If you are able to change something, why are you so worried – change it!
In closing, let me offer a few quotes. Feel free to write these on a Post-It note, engrave them on a plaque, or whatever else…but please, implant them in your mind and recall them next time you start to worry.
- “If money or time can solve the issue you’re facing, it isn’t really a problem.” –Bruce Feiler, quoting his father, The Council of Dads
- “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6:27 NIV)
- “There is a great difference between worry and concern. A worried person sees a problem, and a concerned person solves a problem.” –Harold Stephens
- “If you can’t sleep, then get up and do something instead of lying there worrying. It’s the worry that gets you, not the lack of sleep.” –Dale Carnegie
- “We spend precious hours fearing the inevitable. It would be wise to use that time adoring our families, cherishing our friends, and living our lives.” –Maya Angelou
- “Worry is the interest paid on a problem before it occurs.” –Anne Hemphill