There is a song by Mark Knopfler called “Why Worry” on the Dire Straits album Brothers in Arms. This is the chorus:
“Why worry? There should be laughter after pain
There should be sunshine after rain
These things have always been the same
So why worry now?”
For many it seems quite simple; this too shall pass, life will be rosy again, and troubles will cease. However, for some, worry takes a foothold in the brain. Instead of making a hasty departure when a problem has righted itself, it latches onto one thought and then another until it becomes a chronic condition. When this happens, worry can easily be mistaken for normal thought patterns. In fact, the question becomes “Why NOT worry?”
How can you tell when thinking has morphed into worry? Trace its path. Healthy thinking follows a path and eventually reaches a stopping point, or destination. There may be turns, U-turns, and even wrong turns along the way, but at some point the train of thought reaches the station. Worry is an enormous, meandering loop which also has its share of turns, but never actually leads us anywhere but to more worry.
Despite never reaching a destination, the outcome of worry can feel very finite, which is why depressive and anxious brains are susceptible to it. Worrisome thoughts can trigger those emotions tied to experiences long past and buried deep in our memory. We may not be able to recall the particular experience, but because the current correlating emotion is so strong, the thought becomes valid. Over time, as one worry leads to another, it begins to guide our behavior and take over our lives.
Can a worrier ever stop worrying completely? I would be lying to you if I said, “Yes”. Bad things happen, and when life seems uncertain, it is only natural to worry a little bit. Allowing yourself to worry a little bit is the key to bringing joy back into your life. Just as controlled burns are sometimes necessary to preserve a forest, controlled worry is necessary for preserving our peace of mind.
The key is: Worry a little bit.
Try scheduling your worry.
- Schedule 10 minutes a day for worrying. Try not to schedule it first thing in the morning or just before bedtime. You don’t want to start or end your day worrying – at least not anymore, right?
- Get yourself a notepad and carry it with you throughout the day
- When you find yourself worrying, write the problem down in your notepad
- At the appointed worry time, review the things you wrote down
- When time’s up, tear that page out and throw it away
Don’t worry (sorry!) if you write the same thing down day after day. The point is not to solve every problem, but rather to stop allowing worry to control your thoughts. Consider scheduling worry time just before your bath or shower. That way you can decompress and wash the day’s worries away.
Scheduling time to worry may sound counter-productive, but it works by putting you back in control. By writing down your worries and designating an appointed time for them, you allow yourself to quickly refocus on whatever task is at hand. You also reduce worry about worry. Ever had trouble falling asleep because you were troubled? The next night, did you find yourself reluctant to even lie down because you were certain you’d have another night of worrying? No more! Write it down and say, “Good night. I’ll see you at your next appointment, and not a minute sooner.”
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