How to Stop Worrying

A three-step process to reduce your stress.

Everyone, at some point, worries. For over a year and a half, the pandemic has given us all good cause: “What will happen if I get sick?” “What about my loved ones?” “How long will this last?” “How much will my kids be exposed when they go back to school?” Worrying drives up your stress level.

Worrying in such extreme circumstances, as we have been in for the last many months, is an expected reaction to the very real and highly troubling current events.

But is worrying productive?

When I was in graduate school, a professor told me, “Worrying only produces more worrying.” Think about it: if you worry and continue to worry, what happens?

Only more worrying. Your insides get tied up in knots; you feel exhausted and helpless. While worrying is a natural and expected reaction in a stressful time, staying worried is unproductive.

But how to stop worrying? I’d like to offer a three-step process to reduce your stress by stopping worrying in its tracks.

Say you’re thinking about a distant relative or friend who is suffering from serious health issues and you start worrying about them. As soon as you become aware that you are worrying, stop. See a stop sign or hear an alarm bell and simply stop the worrying thought and ask yourself: “Is this worrying leading to anything productive?” The answer will be “No!”

Now that you’ve pressed the “pause” button, what’s the second step? Come back to the present.

Worrying is always related to the past or the future. You wish you had done something differently yesterday, or you’re afraid of what’s coming tomorrow. “Why didn’t I call my friend when I heard she was sick?” “What will happen if she gets worse?”

Worrying yanks us out of the present. The past is gone and the future hasn’t come yet. The present is the field of action. Right now.

Getting yourself back in the present is simple. So simple, in fact, that it eludes many people.

Once you’ve stopped the worrying, do this: breathe, ground and sense. Do this now.

First, exhale down to your belly. Deeply exhale. Let your belly gently expand. Next, ground yourself—feel your feet supported by the floor and your legs and butt or back supported by what you’re sitting on.

And last, use your sense of touch to feel the different textures of clothing on your body. These are the classic tools for becoming present by calming down.

When you get yourself back in the present, using the three calming tools, you’ll notice that your worrying has not only reduced, it may even— for a moment—have disappeared.

So now that you’ve paused the worrying and gotten yourself into the present, what’s the third step?

It’s helping someone else. Think of someone you know—a friend, a relative, a business colleague, someone who has suffered a loss, or someone you haven’t seen for a long time. Imagine that person. Imagine, right now, what you can do for them, to make their life a bit easier, to help reduce their stress.

Considering someone else, and then actually taking action that will benefit them, is one of the most healing activities for human beings in every culture, through time immemorial. “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” “Reach out and touch someone.” I once heard a philosopher say, “We are meant to be givers, not takers.”

Find yourself worrying?

  • Stop! Ask yourself the question, “Is this worrying productive?” The answer will be “No!”
  • Bring yourself back to the present by calming down.
  • Then do something for someone else.

When you take these three steps, you’ll be using your time and energies well. Rather than be sucked into the quicksand pit of worry, you’ll be rising to the challenge—any challenge.

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