Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey … Barbara Hoffman
I admit it—I am a world champion worry wart! My vivid imagination can take me on some pretty scary worry trips, if I let it.
For example, when I got home from a recent visit with my granddaughters, I had an email from my daughter saying she’d spent the day organizing everything for their backpacking trip the next morning. By bedtime the seven-year old was sick with a sore throat and stuffy nose. They’d see how she was in the morning to decide whether to go backpacking.
Those Darn Negative Scenarios
I could hardly sleep that night imagining the possible negative scenarios. I won’t go into detail, but they involved the four-hour car ride to get to their destination and everyone coming down with a virus while they were off in the woods! And then there was my own fear about catching what my granddaughter had. We’d shared food and drinks at the airport the day before.
The next morning my granddaughter was better and they left as planned. Five days later my daughter called bursting with pride as she described their awesome adventure. The seven-year old carried her own backpack the entire 2.5 miles to their campsite. The three-year old walked the whole way without having to be carried, and their dog carried her own food in a saddle pack.
They had a fabulous time and at night when they sought refuge from the mosquitoes in their tent, they played UNO with the cards I’d given them the previous week.
Now why couldn’t I have come up with any of these positive scenarios when I was wasting my time worrying? Because when we worry, we have conversations with ourselves about distressing things we anticipate happening. The key word here is “anticipate.” The worry is about something that hasn’t happened and may or may not happen. Worry is always about something imaginary. Something that doesn’t yet exist. Worry, in fact, is the process of becoming distressed about the nonexistent. Put in that perspective, worrying seems like a big waste of time.
How to Stop Worrying
I’ve found some useful strategies from an article by C.S. Clarke, PhD that have helped me break the useless cycle of habitual worrying.
Use thought-stopping. Simply say “Stop” in your mind. Mentally shout it, if necessary. Whenever you find yourself worrying, stop the dialogue this way immediately. This may sound too easy, but it really works!
Replace the worry dialogue with a practical dialogue. The events you are anticipating really might occur and you can’t waste your time stuck in the worry cycle.
Plan your most effective responses to the most probable future events. Determine if there is anything you can do right now to prevent or modify those events. Talk to yourself about what probably will happen.
If you can’t change the negative self-talk, choose positive mental images. Make up pictures that represent what you want to happen that oppose the pictures of what you fear will happen.
Make pictures of your desired responses to counteract your feared responses when you know the outcome is unpleasant.