Unwinding From Worry |

5 min read
Source: Ekaterina Bolovtsova/Pexels

Source: Ekaterina Bolovtsova/Pexels

There’s lots to worry about these days—probably always has been. Gruesome wars, school shootings, global warming. On a personal level, perhaps financial stress, health issues, or interpersonal angst. If you’re a senior, you may be aware that there’s more sand in the bottom part of the hourglass than the top.

Unlike the rest of the animal kingdom, humans have the unique capacity to anticipate the future. Other mammals, such as your beloved canine or feline, live in the moment. They don’t waste time thinking about their mortality or holding grudges against people who’ve wronged them or what might happen to them later.

Here are three ways to reduce the worries that accompany being human.

1. Don’t Worry About Worrying

Oftentimes when I notice myself afflicted with worry, I also notice another part of me that judges myself for worrying. “Don’t worry, be happy.” Or, “Whatever will happen will happen; there’s no sense worrying. It is what it is.” If this sounds like a familiar refrain, does such self-talk lessen your worrying? I didn’t think so. They don’t help me either.

So my first advice is this: don’t feel bad that you worry. Otherwise, then not only are you troubled with worry, but now you’re also afflicted with judging yourself for worrying. Adding self-criticism or shame to worry just digs you into a deeper hole. So please, if you notice yourself worrying, don’t kick yourself for it. Don’t worry about worrying. Just let it be.

Such advice holds for all your feelings. Let them be as they are. Are you feeling sad, afraid, angry, hurt, or embarrassed about something? Welcome to the human condition.

2. Be Gentle With Yourself

Relinquishing your worry or self-criticism about worrying leads to the second practice: Can you bring some measure of gentleness to yourself as you notice your worry? This is also sound advice for all of your feelings. Have you noticed that it doesn’t help to add criticism or judgment to whatever you happen to be feeling? It took me a while to figure that out—and it’s an ongoing process.

Listen kindly to whatever you notice inside. Do you feel shame around some aspects of your human experience? The nature of shame is to keep us spinning our wheels in an endless cycle of self-criticism and self-abuse. Please don’t do that to yourself. Let your feelings be as they are. Hold them gently. You might discover that even the most troubling feelings begin to shift as you accept them and engage with them in a compassionate way. Renowned psychologist Carl Rogers put it wisely: “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

3. Be in Your Body

Does your mind drive you crazy sometimes? You’re not alone. It’s what our mind does; it’s a master of telling us what we did wrong, what we should have done or not done in the past, and what might go wrong in the future. Our brain is primed to scan for danger—the well-researched negativity bias, designed to keep us safe.

It sometimes helps to use our mind to get out of our mind. Cognitive therapy has a place. You might tell yourself you’re catastrophizing—imaging the worst, events that have not happened and may not happen. Or you may tell yourself you’re coming to the worst possible conclusion based upon insufficient evidence; your perception is distorted by unfounded beliefs or an unsupported perception of risk.

Such self-reminders and reality checks may help. But what I’ve found most helpful is getting out of our heads and into our bodies. When you find yourself cycling into repetitive, unproductive thoughts, try this: Allow your body to relax and follow your breath into your stomach and chest area. As Gestalt therapist Fritz Perls was fond of saying: “Lose your mind and come to your senses.”

How can we get out of our head? Body-based practices such as yoga, tai chi, chi gong, exercise, walking in nature, or whatever helps quiet your mind can help. Meditation and mindfulness practices also offer a good way to drop down into our body. Somatic therapies such as focusing, Hakomi, and somatic experiencing can also help shift attention into the body.

Being in our body helps us settle into the present moment. Attending to our breath, allowing our belly to soften, and feeling our feet on the ground are helpful ways to stay resourced. Then whatever challenges life brings us, we’re in a better place to meet our experience with a more kind a loving presence. The more we live in our body, the less prone we are to be victims of unproductive worry. And remember, we have little control over what happens to us or what is happening in our world. But we do have some measure of control over how we relate to what happens.

© John Amodeo.

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