Are you worried about having a job on Monday? STOP IT. It won’t save your job.
Are you severely concerned with what other people think about you? STOP IT. They’re going to think it anyways.
Are you freaked out about being able to retire? STOP IT. It won’t put another penny into your future.
Are you anxious to see that your kids grow up well-adjusted? STOP IT. At this rate, there might be little chance of that.
Are you just sick with worry? STOP IT. No, really, just stop it.
According to NIMH, almost 20% of adults in the U.S. have an anxiety disorder, which says nothing about those that suffer from it without such a diagnosis. Most of us don’t need to be a doctor to take a look around and see how much stress and worry there is in our daily lives. From our financials to our health to our career, we and most of those around us are bathing, if not drowning in a sea of stress. What if all this were self-inflicted?
The dirt: You can’t control much in life.
Don’t think you can control much in life? Let Bob Newhart offer his powerful advice on that in an excerpt from Mad TV in 2002
SWITZER: Tell me about the problem that you wish to address.
KATHERINE: Oh, okay. Well, I have this fear of being buried alive in a box. I just start thinking about being buried alive and I begin to panic.
SWITZER: Has anyone ever tried to bury you alive in a box?
KATHERINE: No. No, but truly thinking about it does make my life horrible. I mean, I can’t go through tunnels or be in an elevator or in a house, anything boxy.
SWITZER: So, what you are saying is you are claustrophobic?
KATHERINE: Yes, yes, that’s it.
SWITZER: All right. Well, let’s go, Katherine. I’m going to say two words to you right now. I want you to listen to them very, very carefully. Then I want you to take them out of the office with you and incorporate them into your life.
KATHERINE: Shall I write them down?
SWITZER: No. If it makes you comfortable. It’s just two words. We find most people can remember them.
SWITZER: You ready?
SWITZER: Okay. Here they are. Stop it!
KATHERINE: I’m sorry?
SWITZER: Stop it!
KATHERINE: Stop it?
SWITZER: Yes. S-T-O-P, new word, I-T.
KATHERINE: So, what are you saying?
SWITZER: You know, it’s funny, I say two simple words and I cannot tell you the amount of people who say exactly the same thing you are saying. I mean, you know, this is not Yiddish, Katherine. This is English. Stop it.
KATHERINE: So I should just stop it?
SWITZER: There you go. I mean, you don’t want to go through life being scared of being buried alive in a box, do you? I mean, that sounds frightening.
KATHERINE: It is.
SWITZER: Then stop it.
What if truly were that simple to cure ourselves of the majority of our unnecessary stress and worry? Imagine having access to that switch that gives us the ability to turn off the thoughts and attitudes that keep us down and turn on the mindset for success. Could it be that we’ve had it in our hands all along and were too distracted (and worried) to even notice? Let’s take a closer look at the concept of worry.
“How does it feel to know that we are destroying ourselves with imaginary stress and futuristic falsehoods?”
The downward spiral
Worry seems to be a hallmark of our society today. It is so ubiquitous that there have been industries built around it with politicians extolling it, marketers exploiting it, and doctors and drugs trying to cure it. So what exactly is worry? There are probably some fantastic clinical definitions out there, but for our purposes, let’s define it as the expectation of something undesirable happening in our future. And it has some very interesting characteristics.
For one, worry doesn’t help us. Outside of the acute amount of stress needed to keep us overall healthy and sane, worrying has been linked to shrinking brain mass, lowering IQ, heart disease, and premature aging. This additional stress we place on ourselves can negatively impact not just our mental health, but our physical health as well. And so we actually compound the effects of worry by giving us more things about which to worry! This is a downward spiral into a depressing life. While we’re at it, how often has worrying about something actually made it better? Sure, it can drive us to take action, but I’ll submit that the moment you take action, you actually decrease worry.
Secondly, worry is a distraction. Worry, which must also obey the law of thermodynamics like everything else, requires energy and time. As such, there is an opportunity cost to worrying. We no longer have that time or energy available for anything more productive. We can also form the habit of worrying, where we are so used to worrying, that we start to worry when we’re not worrying. It can become something we do without even giving a thought to it, yet the effects are identical. If we can convert worry into something more positive such as optimism and action, then we can decrease worry and increase good results, now creating an upward spiral of hope and positivity.
Saving the best for last, worry is one of the cruelest things you can do to yourself. Consider that according to a 2014 Cornell University Study, 85% of what we worry about never happens. Do you know what this means? When we worry, we emotionally live through an undesired event even though it will likely never occur. Why would we ever do that to ourselves? In this sense, worrying about an event can create the same negative effects of that event, even if it weren’t to happen. How does it feel to know that we are destroying ourselves with imaginary stress and futuristic falsehoods?
Out of control
Let’s consider two categories of things that cause us worry. Those things we can control and those things we cannot. It almost sounds too simple, but let’s explore these both. Stephen Covey, in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, has famously explained how we can approach each category. I must warn you that what follows will sound too simple, and it is. It may also sound too easy, yet it’s not. Remember that a life of worry and stress isn’t easy either, so it’ up to us what we get out of a not-so-easy life.
The first category is filled with things in our control. How we dress, eat, drive, work, think (yes, it is true), etc are in our control, as is our environment, our money, our health, and our personal development If there is something in our control that we don’t like, all we have to do is stop it. Don’t like that you smoke? STOP IT. Hate that you have poor eating habits? STOP IT Wish you didn’t waste four hours per day on social media drama? STOP IT. No fancy business here, just knowledge, a plan, and some work. There are few things more identity-destroying than doing something harmful to yourself that you know for a fact you can stop or at least change for the better instantaneously.
Then we have those things we cannot control, but that we care about and often worry about. The wonderful thing here is that while we cannot control those things, we can certainly control the degree to which we worry about them. If we understand that we ultimately can control our emotions, we reduce our likelihood of worry and stress. For example, we may not like to deal with rain, but we don’t have to become sad when it does rain or worry about getting wet. A small amount of knowledge/attitude (rain is necessary for life,.so why get sad?), planning (I’ll keep an umbrella on me just in case), and action (use the umbrella when it does rain) gives us the emotional control to be calm and confident, if we choose.
You’re probably thinking “Hey now, it’s not quite that easy. “I tried, but…well…I can’t”, you might say. Unfortunately, you are correct. Remember that worry is like any other bad habit: smoking, drinking to excess, gambling, and drugs. It’s not going to be easy to quit, but it is possible. However, if you choose not to take this head on, there’s nothing left than to continue being the victim of this deadly and cruel stressor. What if we can change this bad habit to a good one. Instead of worry, imagine knowledge, attitude, planning, action, and just a hint of faith creating that upward spiral to success? Will you be perfect right away? Perhaps not. It’s a process that will take time and energy, just like it does to worry. It only starts with a decision.
With countless resources on this topic, I challenge you to start delving into them as the solution to worrying is well beyond the scope of this one article – though it is being pieced together each week in my other Mindwash articles. The good news is now that you are aware, you can do something about it. So instead of a how-to on reducing worry, I will leave you with an experiment. If you take this challenge, you will prove to yourself a level of control you never thought possible:
- Take one thing in your control that you wish to stop doing. This could something obvious as eating fast food, or less obvious such as uttering a complaint to another person.
- Draw a 10 x 10 block of spaces on a sheet of paper, each with a number in it from 1 through 100.
- Stop doing whatever you have chosen to give up. Place a check in the box labeled 1
- Each day you successfully abstain from that activity, place a mark in the next box: 2, 3, 4, ….until you have abstained for a total of 100 days.
- If you lapse on any given day, you must start over from day 1. That’s right, even if you lapse on day 99, you must start over. ***This rule holds regardless of circumstance – yes, even if a tornado destroys your town, you pet cat passes away, and the stock market crashes all on the same day.***
If you complete this challenge, you will have built an amazing amount of control and self-discipline in your life that will carry over into all other aspects. How would it feel to have that level of control over your life? It may even be akin to being superhuman. All that would be left is to save the world!
“Worrying is like paying a debt you don’t owe.”
— Mark Twain
I appreciate you for spending time with me today. Send this to 12 other worry-warts that you know. It just might save their life too. Looking forward to congratulating you at the top, ‘cause the bottom’s much too crowded.