Worrying Well

There is no doubt we’re living in worrisome times, and little doubt that past generations would have said the same of their times. If worry is ever-present, learning how to worry well (or at least better) seems a useful skill to master.

How do you worry? Are you someone who replays past conversations or events over and over again, going through in detail what you said/should have said, did/should have done? Or is your worry more focused on the future, anticipating how something will unfold, what you’ll say next time your mother gives you that look, or you see that cute guy or girl?

Worry is essentially our brain’s tendency to rehash and rehearse – it replays the past hoping we will learn from our mistakes and therefore not repeat them, or anticipates the future, giving us a chance to run our lines and prepare our scripts.

But while these are helpful and necessary processes, worry can also become chronic. It can keep us so caught up in rehashing the past or rehearsing the future that we fail to be present to the present.

If you find that worry sometimes has its way with you, here are a couple of things to try:

  • Take a worry inventory: using post-in notes or some scrap paper, take a walk through your mind and identify the things that are currently asking for your worried attention. As you find these – for example, “there’s the thing with my sister, remembering to book my flight for next month, talking to my boss about the project”… – write each one on a separate piece of paper. If there are any items that you need to deal with right away, pull them aside and organize them in the order you will address them. If none of them are pressing right at this minute (Hint: if it’s 2:00am and “get out of my burning home” is not one of the items, NONE of them are pressing right at this minute!), put them in a box or jar and lay them aside until you are able and willing to address them. You will likely find that just the act of acknowledging the things that are preoccupying you, and giving yourself the message that you WILL deal with them is itself freeing.
  • Try the ‘worry well but only once’ technique proposed by Margaret Wehrenberg. Set aside a time in your schedule (20-30 minutes) and make that your worry time. Use that time to actively worry – rehash and rehearse to your heart’s (and mind’s) content, make the lists you need to make, plan the strategies you need to plan, review the foibles, humiliations and disappointments you need to review… Then when your time is up, put worry away. If it calls your name later on, remind yourself that you already worried today and you’re going to worry again tomorrow, so save it for your worry time. You may find that condensing worry into an acute 20-30 minute time slot is much preferable to the 24/7 chronic low-grade variety of worrying.

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