Do you consider yourself to be a worrier? Do you find yourself offering little pieces of advice throughout the day to the people you care about, in the hopes that they can avoid this or that negative event happening? Or rather than a worrywart, do you consider yourself to be simply a conscientious person, someone who crosses the T’s and dots the I’s to make sure that everything goes as intended? an
I’m guessing that most people will identify with the latter, as being a ‘worrier’ has more negative connotations than being conscientious, and nobody wants to see themselves in a negative light.
But you might be surprised to learn that what you consider to be conscientiousness may actually qualify as worrying! Worrying can be a really destructive habit, but the good news is that coaching can help you understand the difference between worrying from a psychological perspective versus a more productive way of being.
Fallacies About Worrying
Many of us think that worrying is showing that we care for the person we’re worrying about. But really what it is, is projecting our own fears onto someone else, and it’s often the opposite of helpful – for them and for us.
Another mistaken belief about worrying is that if we worry about something, it won’t happen. This is clearly illogical and somewhat superstitious, but it’s so ingrained in our psyches that we can’t shrug it off, even though we know it’s patently untrue. Bad things sometimes happen, whether we worry about them or not. Worrying about them ahead of time robs us of the peace and contentment of focusing on what’s happening in the now. To quote the Nazi war camp survivor, Corrie ten Boom: “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its troubles, it empties today of its strength.”
We think that worrying about something gives us control over that event. If we say, “I’m worried that the flight won’t be on time,” it implies that we have some control over whether the flight is late, but this is just fake control over things that we in reality don’t have any agency over.
If we can’t control the outcome of a situation, why do we waste our energy worrying about it?! For some of us, there may be a genetic predisposition to worry. For others, it may have been ingrained in us by parents who were also worriers. For some, especially people working in healthcare and emergency services, the things that we witness at work may add fuel to the worry fire. And of course there is a cultural conditioning aspect to this.
How To Let Go Of The Worry
- Get Curious with ourselves
How do we stop ourselves from worrying about things over which we have no control? Firstly, we should acknowledge that letting go of worry is a process.
One of the most important things that we can do to begin the process of change is to notice when we are worrying.
We have become so accustomed to worrying that we wear it like a pair of uncomfortable shoes that we’ve just forgotten to take off. If we get curious with ourselves and just notice situations that trigger worry and what it feels like in our bodies when we worry, we’re more likely to be honest about it and ask ourselves whether the outcome of this situation is in our control.
Another good question to ask when we’re worrying is, “Is this helpful?” If we answer that question honestly, it can help us to shift our actions and behaviors.
Worry is often a cover story for a deeper emotion that needs to be felt and processed, like fear. When we are honest with ourselves and identify what it is we’re actually afraid of, and then allow ourselves to feel and process that fear, and acknowledge whether it’s in our locus of control or not, we can move towards dispelling the fear.
- Write it down
Another helpful technique is to write down what it is we’re worried will happen, and then write down three possible alternative outcomes that are more helpful or meaningful.
This helps separate our brains from our negativity bias, so that we can realize that there isn’t really a threat to us in this situation.
Another really effective pen and paper method is to draw a circle and list inside that circle the things that we are worrying about that we have some ability to influence the outcome of, and make a list outside the circle of the things we’re worried about that we have no ability to influence or change.
This is a really illuminating exercise, as we often discover that we’re using a lot of energy on the things that are outside that circle, that we really have no ability to to change. Given the finite time we have in our day, especially as busy physicians and healthcare professionals, doesn’t it make sense to stop worrying about things we have no agency over and focus on areas where we can make a difference we really want to make?
Finally, it is critical that we not beat ourselves up for worrying. Instead, we should take it one day at a time, work through the fears and worries using the methods discussed here, and celebrate ourselves when we’re successful in reducing the worry bit by bit. 🎉