"Worry is useful when it changes our behavior in productive ways. The rest of the time, it's a negative form of distraction, an entertainment designed to keep us from doing our work and living our lives."
By Grace Cherian
When worry and anxiety bubble up in your chest, first, know that you’re not alone. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 18% of Americans are affected by anxiety. That’s almost in 1 in 5! It’s way more common than you think.
And although anxiety comes in many forms (from incessant worrying to more severe panic attacks), learning to ask yourself certain questions can help calm you down.
They’re not a perfect solution but in times of worry, this inner probing has helped clients a little. And often, even just a little relief from panic feels good. (Please note: These suggestions are more for those with fleeting worries as opposed to true anxiety disorders. If you’re experiencing the latter, you should speak with a medical professional.)
Questions to ask yourself:
1. Is this really a threat?
In life, accidents do happen. Yes. But most of the time, we worry about things that are very unlikely to go wrong. What is it that is making you worried? How possible is it really? Truly think about that for a second. Allow the practical nature of your question to help ground you.
Here are some of the most absurd worries people have had:
• Their dog would get harmed from all the jumping around caused by owning a Nintendo Wii (a home video game released by Nintendo).
• The Wonder Wheel would break when they were on it.
• Someone would put drugs in their suitcase and they would go to jail. Our overactive minds can make common situations seem far worse than they actually are.
2. Have I done all I can to be prepared?
This is where the portion of your life that you can control comes in. If you’re riding a bike, wear a helmet! Check that your fire alarm works. Make sure your insurance is up to date. Go for your annual checkup.
My sister always worries that she has left something on and checks all of the electrical outlets in her home before leaving. If that helps, great! What can you do to feel best prepared for what concerns you?
It may sound sombre, but having a will or your paperwork in order, (whatever it is that you can control all ticked off), might help you start feeling lighter. There’s a big difference between planning and worrying. Planning makes you feel empowered, calmer, and clearer. In what area of your life can you replace stressing out with just getting organized?
3. Is my mind just going into overdrive (like in the middle of the night)?
There’s nothing like a restless mind in the middle of the night to make us feel helpless, crazed, and desperate. It’s almost like the nonstop stock news ticker at the bottom of a TV screen. And if your feelings of panic pop up at 2:43 a.m., you have nothing like work, other people, or anything else to distract you.
But you can shift your thought loop with deep breaths or by throwing on a YouTube sleep meditation. Remind yourself that dead-of-night worrying is often completely eradicated by the imminent light of day.
Most importantly, I’ve come to understand that worrying itself is the thing to fear. Seth Godin, a full time speaker, writer and blogger says, “Worry is useful when it changes our behavior in productive ways. The rest of the time, it’s a negative form of distraction, an entertainment designed to keep us from doing our work and living our lives.”
So next time panicked thoughts arise, ask: Is this really threatening? Have I done all I can to keep myself safe? Could this be a case of mental overdrive, which is going to pass (like it probably normally does)? If so, breathe into it. Take what’s useful from your fears and act. Control what you can. And remember that worry doesn’t make life any more predictable.
We may think we feel safer when we’re anxious, but it’s just an illusion. Focusing on worst-case scenarios will not keep bad things from happening. It’ll only keep you from making the most of all the good stuff that you have in the present.
Susie Moore is life coach columnist and a confidence coach in New York City.