A little worry is a good thing. It pinpoints our attention and spurs us into action. But too much worry saps physical energy and makes it hard to sleep.
Enjoyment flies out the window. Our thoughts become a jumble of “what ifs” and “won’t that be awful?” It’s impossible to silence the psychic din.
Worrying is actually a bad habit that few of us are willing to drop. We equate worrying with being a good parent. We believe it somehow keeps loved ones safe or even averts potential disaster.
Yet, once we stop the unnecessary brain drain, we’re able to divert mental resources where they’ll do the most good. We’re happier, healthier and more effective. Now that’s one less thing to worry about. Here’s how to get worry under control:
▪ Schedule time to worry. Allot a specific time to fret about your problems, say from 7 to 7:30 every night. If a thought comes up any other time during the day, tell yourself “Not yet,” or “I’ve already worried for the day.” Then let it drop.
▪ Make a list. Write down all your worries. Next, lay out a plan for how to resolve them. You’ll quickly realize that some of your problems are beyond your control (such as whether your son’s plane lands safely in Dallas). Others will happen whether you want them or not.
▪ Limit exposure to news media. News programs want you to feel worried so you’re compelled to follow their broadcasts. Listen long enough to be informed about the lead stories. Then turn it off and make room for peace and quiet.
▪ Learn to meditate. Researchers from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that mindfulness meditation training decreased subjects’ anxiety levels by 39 percent and positively impacted areas of their brains responsible for thinking and emotions.
▪ Keep things in perspective. It’s easy to exaggerate worries. But most fears are drastically overrated. If they do come to pass, you’ll deal with the consequences. Your dread won’t impact the outcome.
▪ Slow down the clock. Worriers often have a sense of urgency. They need to know something right now. They add extra tasks to an already packed to-do list. Take some deep breaths. Move a little slower. Let go of unnecessary chores. Listen to music. Allow time to expand.
▪ Change the emotional channel. Take control of your psychological airwaves. When worried thoughts arise, replace them with soothing, positive ones.
▪ Spend time with friends. It’s difficult to worry if you’re engaged in great conversation and having fun with your besties. Plan a party. Join a book group. Find a meetup in your community.
▪ Exercise. Physical activity is a tried and true anecdote to worry. A 2008 study at Southern Methodist University found that just two weeks of exercise was enough to demonstrate clinically significant reductions in subjects’ stress levels. Researchers surmised that the changes may be a result of physical factors such as increased endorphins or decreased inflammation. They may also have stemmed from distraction or a boost in self-esteem.
Linda Lewis Griffith’s column is special to The Tribune. She is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit www.lindalewisgriffith.com.