“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, but only saps today of its strength” A.J. Cronin
Evolutionarily speaking, the experience of anxiety is critical to our survival. Without the ability to perceive danger – signaled by anxiety – our ancestors would not have acted on the urgency of many dangerous situations (e.g., the presence of a catastrophic storm or lethal predators). A healthy, moderate dose of anxiety alerts us to a problem that requires our attention and problem solving. When anxiety exists in our lives, it is most likely due to the potential and risk of losing something (e.g., the promotion at work, graduating with honors, the love and respect of your spouse). However, we may allow the perception of anxiety to morph in to incessant worrying. With this level of anxiety, we lose our ability to stay in the moment and in the present.
When we are overcome with irritating or debilitating worries, we allow ourselves to be taken over by irrational thoughts, leading ourselves to believing the absolute worst outcome as an inevitable reality. Our thoughts become inundated with the “what if”s that keep our attention and awareness on the absolute worst result. By harping on the “what if”s, we are robbing ourselves of our joy and leaving no room for anything else in our heads but worries.
Have you ever noticed that you lose so much of your time with your children, spouse, parents, or friends because your mind is stuck playing “what if”s in your head? Instead of being fully present and engaged in the moment with the people that you are with, your presence is absent. Imagine how much of our time and energy is spent on worrying about things that we have no control over! And how much more we can accomplish when our thoughts and energy are not absorbed by self-limiting thoughts!
When we realize this is happening, the most efficient way to combat our deafening worries is to ask ourselves a couple of questions: how important will this be next week? next year? Asking these questions helps us to put things into perspective – if it will not matter a month or year from now, does it deserve my attention? More importantly, if it will not matter a month from now, does the thought deserve my current joy?
The next time you sense anxiety in the pit of your stomach (or in the pain of your temples) and notice that you begin to react by worrying, follow these steps to bring yourself back to the present moment:
- Take a moment to distance yourself from the anxious feeling and worrying thoughts. Take a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth – 5 times. In the space that you are doing so, simply notice the beginning and end of each in-breath, and each out-breath.
- Notice your surroundings. Note three things you see, three you hear, three you feel/sense, and three things you smell.
- After these exercises, if you continue to sense anxiety, ask yourself if anything can be done about the situation, event, or experience that is causing you anxiety – if so, see if problem-solving helps! If not,
- Ask yourself the question: will this matter next month or next year?
- Answer the following questions: What am I imagining to be the worst outcome? Can I survive the worst outcome? What can I envision being the best outcome? What is most likely to be the result of what I am worried about? Does this situation deserve my joy? Remember, you will never have this moment back. Time will never be returned to you, nor can it be earned back.
- Embrace that: you can only control your reactions to life. Others’ behaviors are not your responsibility.
- Be fully present in the moment you are in. Find joy, love, and compassion in each experience!