We can’t get rid of worry altogether: it comes with the territory of life. What we need is to change our relationship with worry. Worry need not be a signal to run around squawking or to hide in the corner. Neither is it a signal something is wrong with you because you’re worrying: as I said above, it comes with the territory.
In mindfulness practice we don’t try to block out worries altogether. Instead, we seek to acknowledge their existence without being harmed by them. To shut our eyes and ears to reality is not part of mindfulness practice.
What are some ways to apply a mindful attitude to over-worrying? Here are two:
Say ‘just worrying’: Whenever you notice you are worrying, silently say ‘just worrying’ and return to what you’re doing. What you are doing, by the way, may well be taking action on the issue that is a source of worry – and that action may be getting blocked by your worrying.
Suppose you’re making a call you need to make and as you do you pause to worry yet again about making the call. Is this exactly the right time for it? Will I say exactly the right thing? But you’ve decided in your rational brain to make the call so you can say ‘just worrying’ and get on with it. If it’s not the perfect call, chances are only you will notice.
Or maybe you are not in a position to take action. In that case you might want to do a different piece of work in the meantime but worrying may be interfering with this too. Yet the worrying itself probably contributes nothing except to make you feel bad. But even if a certain background level of worry remains, that simple phrase ‘just worrying’ can help you to avoid magnifying it.
Something you enjoy
Do something you enjoy doing: To sit there going ‘just worrying’, ‘just worrying’, ‘just worrying’ is not really a very satisfactory way to spend all your time. It’s usually easier to put your attention onto something that you value and enjoy. For some people that might be cooking, for others it might be reading a book or playing with a child. Use that activity as your focus of mindfulness. This may require an effort at the start – your mind may protest that it would prefer to worry – but if you persist you will see the benefits. And you will find you have more energy left over to deal with the issue you had been worrying about.
Quick thought: When you notice you have begun to worry excessively, silently say ‘just worrying’ and then get on with what you’re doing or make a rational plan to deal with the issue you’re concerned about. Alternatively, do something you enjoy or value doing.
Image by Juan Rumimpunu
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