When I am anxious it is because I am living in the future. When I am depressed it is because I am living in the past.

Hello.  My name is Dena and I’m a recovering worrier.  I’ve been a “worrier” since I was a little girl.  Worrying came naturally to me. 

When I was in preschool I was at the top of my class in terms of intellectual development, but even then I was anxious.  As I grew up, so did my anxiety. All the while, my worrying was applauded.  At school being a worrier made me a conscientious student (always straight A’s).  At home being a worrier made me a good big sister. 

When a child’s actions are applauded and met with positive reinforcement, the child will work even harder to obtain the desired outcome. In my case, the desired outcome was worry.

Like all good little girls, I wanted to make everyone happy.  And so I did what made my teachers and parents happy—I worried & I worried & I worried.  My anxiety manifested itself in many forms. I woke up with knots in my stomach.  I developed a startling preoccupation with the whereabouts of my younger sister.  I escaped to the school nurse’s office & cried hysterically until I was sent home because I didn’t know all of the answers on a science test.  

No one ever told me to stop.  I was a good daughter and a good student.  Why would anyone tell me to stop?

A WORSENING SCENARIO

As I got older & life became more complex, so did my worries.  I worried about my parents a great deal—their marriage, their finances, etc.  I worried about the state of the world.  I worried about my future.  My worry was often accompanied by disappointment.  I grew to hate myself because I wasn’t perfect.  Straight A’s were not good enough, I wanted straight A+’s.  When I entered high school, I began a half-lifelong battle with obesity.  Eventually, as it usually does, my anxiety turned into depression.  

My mind was in a near-constant state of negativity.  When I wasn’t worried about the future, I was beating myself up about my past.  Inside, I was a wreck.  I know that this is a sad story, but for me, there is a happy ending.  In my later teens, I began practicing the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which would eventually save my life.  For many—maybe for you—the happy ending hasn’t come yet. The depression & anxiety still reign.  The good news is that there is hope.  

I started this post by introducing myself as Dena, a recovering worrier.  I describe myself this way because like alcoholism, worrying is not something that you just overcome.  An alcoholic is an alcoholic until the day he dies—whether two weeks clean or two decades clean.  Likewise, a worrier is always a worrier until the day she dies—even when she has the tools to stop worrying temporarily.  If you are a worrier by nature, this post will not change that; but what it will do is give you some tools to stop worrying and to get your anxiety under control.

THE MOST USELESS EMOTION

If you are driven by common sense then perhaps understanding that worrying is completely useless will be the thing that makes you stop.

Why is worry completely useless?  Because anyone who spends a great deal of time willfully worrying is rightly stupid.  Would you agree that a person who deliberately spends a great deal of time & energy banging her head against a wall for no good reason is stupid? What about a person who tries the same thing over & over again and expects different results? Worry is just as useless as these stupid activities are.

Back when I was a full-blown worrier, I would get insulted when someone said that worrying was useless.  Worrying was such a huge part of me, that calling it useless was like calling me useless.  After all, I spent a great deal of my life worrying!  I would adamantly defend my worrying. Worrying makes me a good person.  Worrying makes me a good student.  Of course, I realize now that this was completely insane but I couldn’t see it then.

All of those carefully crafted defenses were nothing more than excuses.  There is not one factual reason in the world that explains why worry is a good thing.  If you are being stubborn and refuse to accept what I am telling you, let’s look at some examples:

1.  You are a student and you worried about an upcoming test.  What is the purpose of your worrying?  Does the worry benefit you somehow?  Will it help you perform better on the test?  No, of course not.   

2.  Your spouse is late coming home from work.  You are worried that your spouse is having an affair.  What is the purpose of your worrying?  Does the worry benefit you somehow? No, of course not.

3.  Your company is in financial turmoil.  Layoffs are imminent.  You are sick with worry.  What is the purpose of your worrying?  Does the worry benefit you somehow? No, of course not.

4.  You are hiking in the woods when suddenly you fall into an abandoned mine shaft.  There is no way out.  It is getting cold & dark.  You become paralyzed by fear & worry.  What is the purpose of your worrying?  Does the worry benefit you somehow? No, of course not.

There is no limit to the number of things that we worry about constantly.  Tragically, all of this worry is nothing but wasted energy and pointless, negative mind-chatter.

Here are some action items, in place of worry, that would actually be useful in the examples above:

1. Rather than worrying about the upcoming test, study for it. Find out what method of studying works best for you and make the best use of your time by studying. Practice visualization and imagine yourself doing well on the test.

2. Rather than worrying because your spouse is late coming home from work, you have two options. If you have no reason to mistrust your spouse, reassure yourself and remember how wonderful & devoted your partner really is. Be sympathetic to the fact that he is stuck at work when he would rather be home with you. Invest your energy in something productive like working out, reading a book, or mowing the lawn.

If you do have reason to mistrust your spouse, use this event as an opportunity to seek the counseling that your marriage has been needing. Therapy might help, but worrying definitely won’t.

 3. Rather than worrying about getting laid off, do something about it. Make yourself indispensable. This doesn’t mean kill yourself working hard, instead work smart. If your very best is still not enough, then start your job hunt early. Begin focusing your energy on finding another position. Or, use the layoff (and the unemployment checks) as an opportunity to embark on that start-up you’ve been dreaming about forever.

4. Alright, if you’re stuck in an abandoned mine shaft then this is an acceptable time to worry. But the fact remains that worrying will not get you out of the shaft. Rather than worrying, try to remain calm. Explore every option that might lead to escape. Look for a log, an exposed root system, or a stray ladder. If all else fails, remain calm in hopes of conserving your oxygen supply. This is a great time to harness the power of positive thinking. 😉

AND THEN ONE DAY, I WOKE UP

Many of the major, positive changes that I’ve experienced (overcoming anxiety/depression, losing 70 pounds, etc.) took place about 4 years ago when I began practicing positive, rational thinking (CBT). However, it took much longer to get a good handle on my worrying. Worry was so deeply embedded in every aspect of my life. Moving away from it was like losing a a close friend. I didn’t know how to function without it.

The best weapons in my battle against worry were positivity and presence. The more that I infused positivity and presence into my thoughts, the easier it became to stop worrying. My final—and perhaps greatest—victory came when I realized just how useless worrying really is. It was like waking up from a bad dream. When I catch myself slipping into worry now, I just remind myself how pointless it is.

THE POWER OF POSITIVITY & PRESENCE

I started this post with two extremely powerful statements: When I am anxious it is because I am living in the future. When I am depressed it is because I am living in the past. When you accept these statements as facts, you will begin to overcome the pain of worry. You will find that anxiety is a always result of living in the future and depression is always a result of living in the past. The cure for these negative mental states is simple: remain in the present moment. Live in the now.

Anxiety is just repeatedly experiencing failure in advance. —Seth Godin

My favorite quote about anxiety comes from Seth Godin. Seth says that anxiety is just repeatedly experiencing failure in advance. This is so powerful because it is so true. Stop experiencing failure in advance. Stop worrying about what might happen. Start living in the now. Make what you want to happen, happen. Create the life of your dreams!

9 thoughts on “How to Stop Worrying”

  1. a couple of thoughts on worry:

    I once read “worry is creativity gone awry” – whether or not this is true, it became my belief and ever since reading it, when I start to get anxious and worry, I do something creative – it calms me and keeps me centered.

    I’ve often thought about the word ‘worrier’, and I realized I hate it, more accurately, I hated being a worrier. I imagined a worrier as a fidgeting, sweating, hand-wringing, nail biting nervous wreck. That was such an unattractive image that I decided I wanted to instead be a ‘warrior’ and fight off the worry when it tried to attack me.

    I’m not big on war metaphors or imagery – but in this case, it feels appropriate. My warrior is a strong, tall, bold, competent, capable woman – with a wonder woman type belt and headpiece.

  2. It’s funny that you used the word warrior, Pat. I love that word. I often think of myself — and other strong women — as a warrior goddess of light.

    I love the image of the strong, capable woman with wonder woman belt & headpiece. Beautiful.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, you are a special soul. <3

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  7. You inspire me a lot. Today I thought that maybe I’ll lose, I’ll not be able to do my test well. In short, I worried. But Thanks to you, Dena, I am living in the present and not failing in advance.

    Thank YOU So much……

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