I used to worry about stuff happening in my life and my work for days and weeks. Actually the truth be known, it could sometimes be months of ruminating, stewing and worrying.
Worrying’s not all bad. It can be helpful to motivate us to take a positive action, but excessive worry is debilitating.
Let me give you a few examples.
Let’s say you have a colleague at work who you suspect is undermining you in some way. Or maybe you have a client who doesn’t like your brilliant idea and you have to share the bad news with your team. Maybe you seem to be the only one working long hours and it feels unfair. Or worse, maybe your vision and values don’t align with your job.
You moan at work over lunch with your trusted colleagues.
You’re so fixated on a particular topic, your partner ends up hearing about it all night long.
You commiserate over a glass of wine (or many) with a close friend.
Soon minutes become hours of worry, maybe weeks.
You feel like a dog with a bone.
Grabbing hold of something and not letting go. Stubborn, determined and single-minded.
You literally can’t stop thinking about it. You wake up in the morning and you’re thinking about it again. You make a cup of tea and there it is AGAIN.
Dwelling on issues for weeks or longer, is exhausting.
It pulls our valuable attention away from moving purposeful initiatives forward in our life and work.
Now imagine there's a way to catch yourself in the midst of worrying and become more aware of these moments and learn how to shift from reactivity, frustration and worry to greater calm.
Before I share some mindful strategies, you should know, there isn’t a magic pill that will take all our worries away.
But there are some smart things we can do to work with the reality of our worries, emotions and thoughts. In fact it may surprise you to learn that we don’t have to change anything at all or fix anything in our selves.
It’s about acknowledging (even welcoming!) worries, thoughts and feelings, expressing what we’re feeling when we need to and watching our worries eventually pass. Then repeating it, when worry comes back.
It’s allowing our worry to flow through us, as opposed to trying to stop it, avoid it, put it in a box or control it in some way.
For sure it’s not an easy task.
But I can share three of the strategies I have used over the years for dealing with my own worries that have helped me change my entire relationship to them.
Step 1. Notice you’re worrying.
The first step is to know you’re worrying. It may sound obvious, but the reality is we get lost in our own thoughts and don’t always pay attention to our worrying minds. So, acknowledge you’re worrying about something. It can be as simple as saying to yourself “worrying”.
Step 2. Get into your body.
As soon as you’ve acknowledged you’re worrying, get out of your head and into your body. Notice physical sensations like your seat in your chair, the pressure of your feet on the ground, the weight of your arms. Notice any tingling, warmth, coolness. Then bring your attention to your breath. Take one slow deep breath in, slowly breathe out. It may seem strange at first to do this, but it’s a powerful way to let your worrying mind be in the background and be more present.
Step 3. Make friends with your emotions.
If you’ve moved through the first two steps, the third step is to notice your feelings, ideally in the heat of the moment, it can also be afterwards, trying not to judge yourself. In mindfulness meditation we learn how to cultivate a beginner’s mind, it’s kind of like a non-judging and curious attitude. This really helps to soften our worries and in time allow us to befriend them.
While your worries will never completely leave you, when you bring mindful awareness to them, in time their impact gets less and less. We change our relationship to worry, anxiety and stress and start to befriend them.
If you’re anything like me and have found yourself from time to time dwelling on worries and issues - and you want to do something about it, join me at our next 1-Day Wakeful Retreat on June 2nd, 2018.
Oh and one more thing.
Why not take a couple of conscious breaths right now, it can make all the difference.
What things have you learned along the way when it comes to managing worries? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.