“If you can’t sleep, then get up and do something instead of lying there worrying. It’s the worry that gets you, not the lack of sleep.”
– Dale Carnegie
We all have problems with worrying from time to time. Usually, it’s productive to think carefully about them and come up with solutions. However, when we find ourselves reviewing the same problem over and over again, it can disturb our sleep, hamper our effectiveness, interfere with our relationships. Generally, suck the pleasure out of life. While worrying is common is can become an unhealthy mental stressor.
For example, an employee named John has a job working for a large social services agency. John is well-liked by his clients and is viewed as a competent professional by his supervisors and peers. However, he worries about his ability to meet recently increased expectations for productivity. As the primary breadwinner in his family, he is worried about possibly losing his job. John envisions himself having to tell his family of what he perceives is his possible failure. He worries he will not be able to find another job. With no job, there is the possibility of unpaid bills. As he was having dinner with his wife and she was recounting her experiences of the day, John finds himself thinking about his own experiences during his workday over and over.
Worrying is Common with Everyone
Worrying is a universal experience and John’s experience may be familiar to us in one form or another. However, when this behavior becomes repetitive, intense, and appears to take on a life of its own, it has crossed the line from “worrying is common” to a chronic behavior which becomes harmful to our mental health.
Chronic Worrying is Manageable
If you are prone to extend times of worrying, here are some effective strategies for you to try. One idea is to set aside a specific time and place to do your worrying. Give yourself twenty minutes in a designated space to worry. If worrying about this issue surfaces at another time, gently set the thoughts aside to be addressed at a specific time and place.
Another strategy is to examine your anxious thoughts about this issue in order to detect any unrealistic thoughts. Those thoughts may be increasing the level of anxiety. Journaling allows you to examine your issue. You may get the sense of letting go of something. Seeing real words on paper can sometimes help us to evaluate the issues. In our example, John does not have proof he is not doing a good job. If there was a chance he could not meet the new production quotas, it is likely his superiors would give him time to work towards these goals.
The Ability to Look Beyond the Worrying
Another fallacy in John’s line of thought is his assumption he would not be able to find another job. John may be able to find another job in his field. It’s even possible he would find a better job. Barring this, he may be able to use his well-honed interpersonal skills in other fields, such as sales, public relations, or customer service. A fun exercise to balance out the tendency to imagine the worst is to think about what a dream scenario might look like. For example, John might imagine that he has been laid off and goes on to form his own successful private social services agency. This is simply giving “equal time” to positive outcomes. A simple “Pros & Cons” list will allow him to see the benefits of both his current position as well as the possibility of a better future.
Preparing Instead of Worrying
To conclude, worrying is common, but there are many strategies to prevent it from becoming unhealthy. Beyond managing your worrying time, allow yourself to experience the possibility of a better future by work towards the future. Could you take online courses or classes at the local college? What about joining a networking group, which allows you to be prepared.
To help you manage your habit of worrying you may find the following resources helpful:
- Pros & Cons Exercise