Why do we worry? To this day, excessive worrying has yet to solve a single problem. Still, many of us spend our valuable time worrying incessantly about what the future has in store. We even get worried that all of our worrying is having a negative impact on our health. Worrying about how much we worry sets up a vicious cycle with no relief in sight. However, if we can better understand what worry actually is, then we can significantly reduce the amount of unnecessary stress and anxiety that we experience on a day-to-day basis.
The first thing to understand is that worrying is not always a bad thing. On the deepest level, worrying means that you actually care about something. For example, if you are worried that your car might get stolen, it means that you value your car and you care whether or not somebody takes it from you. Likewise, if you are worried that you are going to lose a loved one to a serious illness, it means that you care deeply about that person. After all, if you didn't care about them, then you wouldn't be worried. That said, the secret to living a worry-free life is not to stop caring, rather it's to recognize when worrying is serving you and when it is not.
Sometimes worrying can be of benefit. For example, if you are worried about doing well at your job interview the following day, then you are more likely to spend your evening preparing for it. In this case, your worry caused you to take appropriate actions to mitigate failure. However, if you then stay up all night tossing and turning, worrying about the job interview - imagining in great detail all the things that could go wrong- then your worrying is not helping you out at all.
The key to neutralizing worry is to recognize that all worrying takes place inside your imagination. As conscious beings, we have developed the unique ability to picture possible futures inside our mind's eye. When we worry, we imagine the worst possible scenario happening and then we react emotionally to it, as if the situation is really taking place. Again, this isn't necessarily a bad thing- our ability to predict potential hazards before they occur in real time has been key to our survival as a species.
It becomes a problem when we get obsessed with our imaginary future, unable to separate ourselves from the worst case scenario that exists inside our heads. When this happens, we end up suffering twice. We suffer once with dread and then again when facing the actual consequence. The key is to be in control of what we imagine. Instead of suffering from the terrible future that you have dreamed up, try imagining a future in which everything works out perfectly.
As the saying goes, "Worrying is like praying for what you don't want to happen." Therefore, the antidote to worry is to focus your mind on what you do want to happen. The next time you are worried, try picturing the best case scenario instead, allowing yourself to feel the positive emotions associated with that particular outcome. In other words, focus on what could go right instead of what could go wrong. Doing this may or may not affect what actually happens next but, even if things go horribly wrong, at least you only had to suffer once. By being aware of our tendency to project negative futures, we can shift away from unnecessary stress and anxiety and begin actively manifesting positive circumstances instead.
Nick Hughes is a massage therapist, yoga instructor and co-owner of Well Being.