For years I’ve been trying to shake a seemingly innate ability to worry about just about anything and everything. Like it’s my job. Like I would be irresponsible if I weren’t worrying. Like somehow my incessant worrying would tip the balance in order to allow for the positive outcome.
Because I wanted it so much and was being so vigilant in my worry.
And when one issue was resolved (in whichever direction) the internal worrier would scan, scan, scan and “Eureka!” find a new issue to fret over.
Forget that I’ve studied positive psychology, that I believe that we are all made of energy and we attract the same vibration at which we are humming – and that Worry is just a low vibe. It’s lower than Doubt. It’s even lower than Pessimism. (Take a minute and think of each word – Worry, Doubt and Pessimism. See how your body changes.)
So, knowing all of this great, upbeat stuff hasn’t changed the fact that I WAS A WORRIER. My identity was wrapped so tightly around it.
Until a few weeks ago. Two things happened. First, I worked with the brilliant business and leadership coach Laurie Hacking who helped me identify and crack open the pattern of worry that had it’s grip on me.
A few weeks later, I was in a three-day postpartum doula training session. The leader was a wonderful and talented doula, originally from Switzerland. She was asked a question about how she’d handle a situation…whether she would take a certain precaution. The leader’s response began with a phrase that nearly knocked me out of my seat. She said, “Well, I’m not a worrier…”
Just like that. I AM NOT A WORRIER. Something changed inside me when she said those words. What I heard was that worrying is a hat that one could put on or take off. There is a choice.
Quite elementary, I guess. But it’s never struck me like that.
What if I just no longer identified myself as a worrier? What if I wasn’t born a worrier (I wasn’t) but that I picked it up along the way (I did)?
I’ve been testing the theory. Here are my findings: I can stop worrying before it starts – and sometimes even when it’s in motion. And other times it gets the better of me. Usually when I’m tired. Just like how I can’t run a certain distance when I’m tired. I just don’t have the strength in those muscles yet.
Here’s what’s worked when it’s worked.
- Learn to detect the early signs of worrying. It’s much easier to switch gears and defer the worrying before it starts. My early signs include: tightness in my chest, shallow breathing, mind racing, desire to call my sister in a panic.
- Come up with a “safe word.” Now as soon as fretting is coming on, I say “I’m a warrior, not a worrier.” Yes, it’s corny…by design. The dorkier I feel, the more likely I am to laugh at myself, which then helps to divert my attention away from the issue.
- Reorient myself in time and space. Remind myself that the world is FOR me, not AGAINST me.
- Reach for a higher emotion. Remember “Doubt”? Well, reaching for the feeling of Doubt brings me out of Worry. Read more here.
- Pray for strength and kiss it up to heaven. Who am I to say what is GOOD or BAD? I’m reminded of the Arabian Horse Story, which illustrates how you don’t know what’s good and bad because you don’t know the outcome down the road–two days, two months, two or twenty years from now.
- Channel the energy into a different place. Turn the nervous energy into hugs – both ones you give and the ones you request. Heart to heart contact is a powerful antidote.
- Remember that life is happening right now. Breathe in the flowers and breathe out the candles. Take off my shoes. Feel the ground beneath my feet. Pinch my arm. Hold hands with the love of my life. Touch my son’s cheek with my lips. Eat a strawberry in slow motion. Remember that it could all end in the blink of an eye and I don’t want my last moment spent worrying about something that may never come to pass.
Photo credit: “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by MaticesLA, under a Creative Commons license on flickr. Juan David Giraldo Ruiz is a photographer based in Colombia.