Is worrying a waste of time?
We all worry at times. Worrying shows we care about our lives and the things and people that matter to us, but when worry becomes excessive it can make our lives less enjoyable. Time spent worrying is really time spent not living! This vicious cycle of negative thinking takes us ‘out of the moment’ and either back into the past, going over what has already happened, or into the future stressing about what may happen.
The mind tends to want to remember and keep hold of worries. This makes sense if we are actually in danger, for example, if we’re being hunted by a hungry lion. In this situation we would definitely not want to lose the worry - we need the adrenaline to run away and save ourselves. But most worries are not life threatening or immediate, and so replaying these thoughts in our minds like an endless cycle hinders rather than helps us.
Did you know that research has shown that about 80% of the things that we worry about do not happen! Mark Twain once said “I've had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened." This is so true! The majority of what we worry about never materialises in reality.
So to answer the question 'Is worrying a waste of time?' I say yes! Worrying also saps our energy, draining it from us and making us feel tired.
I’m sure that if you asked an elderly person looking back on their life what they wished they’d done more of, the answer would not be “I wish I’d worried more” (or “I wish I’d watched more TV", but that’s a whole other subject!).
So what can we do to combat worrying?
If you’re identifying with this and are a bit of a worrier at times, here are some tips to help you deal with worries instead of letting them consume you.
Write your worries down.
Jot down your worries and this will get them out of your head and persuade your mind to forget them for a while. They are recorded in a permanent place, so it’s ok for the mind to let them go.
Tell someone about it.
Talking about your worries will help you to release them; remember the saying: 'A problem shared is a problem halved.' Whoever you decide to talk to, be it friends, family, your partner or a therapist; they may have some useful input, which will help you rationalise your fears and put your mind at rest.
Schedule your worry time.
Choose a time of the day and take 20-30 minutes, your pen and notebook and allow yourself to worry in this time. Carving out a block of time dedicated to worry time will help you train your brain to not worry at other times. Enjoy your life more in the moment without negative thoughts interfering constantly.
Try the following effective worry challenge exercise:
1. Write down your worry or fear.
2. Ask yourself if what you’re worrying about is based on reality or is it something that has only happened in your mind? What is the likelihood of it happening in your life?
3. If it is a possibility, rate it on a percentage scale as to how likely it is to happen? If it’s less than 15% likely to happen, choose to let it go!
4. If it is more than 15% likely to happen (this still doesn’t mean it will), ask yourself if it is something that you can control or is it out of your control? Are there steps you can take to stop it from happening?
5. If it is out of your control, ask yourself the steps you will take to cope, what you will do after the event, if it does happen. Mostly, the worst-case scenario is not as bad as you have been imagining and by thinking about responses and coping mechanisms if the situation does happen, we take some of the fear out of the worry. Often the worry will reduce considerably with this step.
6. If it is in your control, i.e. you can take actions to avoid it happening, ask yourself what are three things you can do to solve or work towards solving this problem? Take action on these three steps. Taking action is the opposite of worrying, which can make us feel powerless. When we act, even if we only take small steps towards solving the issue, we take back control. This is empowering and positive and in many cases will replace worry with solution oriented thinking and confidence.
I recommend that you record the questions and answers of the above exercise by writing them down. This is much more powerful and transformative, and you can refer back to your notes in the future to remind yourself too.
What if your worries are out of control?
Everyone has worries but if they are incessant and are really interfering with your life it may be that you’re suffering from anxiety. If this is the case you may need some outside help from a therapist, who will also teach you some coping strategies to deal with the anxiety. This in turn will help reduce your worrying and help you to move forward positively.