It’s not time to worry yet
– Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird
If you’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, you’d know that Atticus Finch (the main character) had in several instances used this phrase to assuage his children’s fears, mainly Scout’s, in the vile face of 1930’s southern United States racism.
In the face of adversity, worry is a reaction that comes all too easily. So, why do we worry? Worry is simply a normal reaction to stressful situations and can actually play a part in helping us avert dangerous situations.
Research has found that individuals often worry when faced with uncertain situations and the worrying that follows is a direct response to imagining the various negative outcomes that may be the result of these uncertainties.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that worrying can be counterproductive. It can potentially fester and develop into debilitating anxiety, resulting in physical and mental health problems.
If you’re a seasoned worrywart like me, attempting to even stop worrying might seem like an outlandish notion. While my attempts to completely stop worrying have not been quite productive, I’ve simply diverted my focus into controlling these thoughts, and actively choosing to manage them at a time that is more convenient to me. The key here is to try and stall the obsessive thoughts from taking precedence of my day, and instead talk myself out of paying attention to them right away and hold them off till later.
Here are some tips:
Tell your worries to hold on
Say you’re due for a huge presentation and you’re naturally not comfortable being in front of a huge crowd. As you’re mulling over the impending doom, it’s easy to let your imagination run away with the worst. With every terrifying thought that passes through your mind, you stop and obsess over it while your heart starts racing. The next thing you know is that you’ve lost control of your thoughts.
This is when you actively wrest control of your mind and spend enough time to identify what the worry is without engaging in the fear that comes with it. Make a mental note and let these worries know that you acknowledge their existence and that you will deal with them in time but engage no further.
As each worry and fear passes through your mind, ask yourself what’s the worst that could happen in each of these scenarios, and write them down or sketch them on a piece of paper. Hold on to this sheet. You’ll need it when you’re ready to give each scenario a good dose of reality and then work out the right plans to overcome them.
Set aside some time to do the actual worrying
Once you’ve put off worrying, experts suggest setting aside fixed periods of time in a day to actively worry. Your worry periods can be for up to 20 minutes a day, but it will require much practice and discipline to prevent the worrying from progressing beyond this period. Even holding off worrying successfully for 10 minutes is significant progress and you can gradually work on increasing the “waiting period”.
Set aside a comfortable place to worry, but refrain from doing so in a place where you regularly work – perhaps the garden would be better suited for this purpose.
Read: What Happens To You When You Worry
Stop worrying and refocus on the present
Look back at the sheet of worries you’ve been carrying with you. If you’re worried about not being prepared for the big presentation, do the right thing and prepare ahead of time.
But before all that, remind yourself that thinking too far ahead into the future is not helpful, because all you have is here and now, and the ability to make the best of it. A task may seem more daunting before you begin, but once you get the ball rolling, it’s always much easier to get over. After all, it takes more energy to overcome inertia but once momentum kicks in, you’re constantly on the go, until you stop.
Procrastination is your enemy here and planning your time well will certainly help, so manage your time accordingly for each subtask. If it’s a technical issue that’s worrying you, get the right people to back you up. Call the venue beforehand to ask for assistance or for necessary equipment so you can put these fears at bay.
Refocus all your energies away from the worries and put them to good use into the tasks you have at hand. Once you’re done, you can put worrying on hold until the moment of truth itself.
Revisit your worry period with the sheet of worries from your previous session
Remember the time you’ve set aside for the purpose of worrying? It’s time for another one of those sessions. But this time, things are different as you’re only allowed to worry about the things that you feel you must worry about.
The key to remember here is you can stop thinking about the things that are no longer relevant, have been resolved, or simply can’t be controlled from here on.
Putting off worrying till later may not necessarily stop you from worrying completely but learning how to manage your fears by taking control of them will definitely help you focus on what you can do right now.
Supplement the tips above with this video on mindfulness brought to you by Leaderonomics Media.