Sometimes I wonder if mothers know really how wise they are.
When I was growing up (and even when I became an adult), there were quite a few times when my mom threw a few really helpful zingers my way.
Although I remember them to this day and hold them as being sentimentally important, whenever I brought them up to my mother, she had absolutely no recollection of saying them.
Apparently, she wasn’t intending to be a Yoda in those moments; she was just trying to impart some quick insight to get me through whatever crisis was arising (ah, those teenage drama years).
One of these such zingers was “never worry twice.”
Now, this may have been an old, generally-adopted aphorism, but I’d like to give credit where credit is due — to the person from whom I first heard it. My mom.
I think we were both kind of anxious about life, for different reasons. We each had a sensitivity to what was going on around us, and a sense of responsibility to take care that everything would go smoothly and that everyone was okay. We were also über planners and forecasters — trying to predict what would come next so we could be prepared. Bad or good.
So from time to time, one of us would get in a state of worry. However, I think my mom ultimately realized that worry — even if it were a subconscious habit — was never really effective.
It didn’t protect the worrier from things going pear-shaped (as the Brits like to say, and my mother was a proud Englishwoman). It didn’t prevent bad things from happening. It just felt like we were fighting the uncontrollable and trying to beat it into submission with preparation.
So when one day she advised “don’t worry twice,” I really tried to take that to heart.When we worry, we have to do it twice. It's rarely just one and done.Click To Tweet
When I start to worry now, I realize that I will have to do it exactly twice if bad things happen — I’m pre-worrying now over the future, and, if what I fear comes to pass, I will have to worry again when it actually happens.
What is worry?
Worrying is the mental gymnastics we activate around the possibility of bad things happening in the future.
Worry arises from our feelings of stress, loss of control, fear, helplessness and uncertainty — and our discomfort with those feelings. They’re really hard to sit with and it’s difficult to not immediately leap to finding a way to soothe them.
All of these feelings are manifested in our thoughts, and worry is an attempt to control them.
Our thoughts convince us that there isn’t just a possibility of something bad happening, but there is more likely a probability or even a certainty. And if we can predict what those bad things are going to be, and how they will arise, our minds tell us we can make a plan to avoid them, and we logically try to conclude that that plan will keep us safe.
But we all know that anything can happen at any time to any one, and that often we don’t see those coming. So our worry is just a mental trick with no real effect.
We don’t want to feel so helpless at being victims of chance or bad luck.
We also don’t want to do anything to make us feel like we caused something bad to happen by overlooking something, or failing to do something to prevent the bad thing from happening.
At best, our worries are in place to manage and triage all the stresses we are under. However, those stresses are usually symptomatic of larger imbalances in our lifestyles. It’s not about meeting a deadline and trying to get everything done; worry comes from the fear of the consequences of things getting out of control and crashing down around us.
At worst, our thoughts can become become catastrophic and focused on disaster. These thoughts are heavy and dense. They can move into full-blown anxiety and panic.
If we’re human, we experience fear at times. And we worry. And we feel awful when we feel helpless. No wonder we try to latch on to anything we think might alleviate this helplessness.
However, we inherently know that worrying is disempowering behaviour. It prevents us from acknowledging our true strengths, and it prevents us from being emotionally honest and accepting the deeper truth — we are scared of the unknown. Worry also prevents us from mobilizing in a courageous and open-minded way.
Further, worry can distract us from taking stock of our lives and recognizing the big picture — sometimes it’s not the small details that send us into panic, but the big existential meaning we apply to areas of our lives.
Try being concerned instead
It may be a matter of semantics, but I prefer to use the word “concern” when I am considering negative possibilities or stresses.
Concern limits itself to the matter at hand, and doesn’t get waylaid into a stress-and-fear-tornado.
Concern acknowledges the not-so-nice realities of life: sometimes it isn’t all roses and sunshine. In fact, sometimes it’s really terrifying and crappy.
We’re not just trying to put on a happy face here, and it’s not about thinking positive thoughts.
Concern says, “Yes, things may take a turn for the worse in the future. This is what could happen. But let’s empower ourselves to respond to that if it does. Let’s also not forget that good things may also happen, and this bad thing we are concerned about might not happen.”
Concern keeps the positive and the negative possibilities balanced. And they remain possibilities, not probabilities or certainties.
When the time comes to make a decision or a choice, or to formulate a response to something happening, concern will do its work. It will look at all the possibilities, and look for options that worry did not conceive of in its catastrophic convictions.Worry focuses on catastrophic possibilities; concern knows how to pivot to solutions.Click To Tweet
Concern knows how to pivot because it is empowered for helpful change; worry is fixed in its powerless spot. Concern leaves room for creative solutions.
Concern brings up a point for discussion or contemplation, but doesn’t fret over and over again.
So when you are stressed about something, or are fearful, or are uncertain, take a step back before you start worrying and see if you can reduce it to concern.
Here are eight strategies to relieve your worries and turn them into concerns instead:
- Acknowledge to yourself what you are afraid of. It’s usually deeper than just the situation in front of you. What is giving you the feeling of a loss of control? What are you afraid of losing? What are you so attached to that you cannot bear letting go of? Whom are you so attached to that you cannot bear letting go of?
A lot of what we fear is really not about something happening or not happening, it is being in an undetermined place which we feel we have no power to change. The space between the old and the new can feel like a great big canyon full of snarling animals which will just snatch us up and tear us from limb to limb. When we can’t see the other side, we convince ourselves that our destiny is that canyon.
Just accepting that that canyon is there can be terrifying, and worry keeps us from feeling that fear because it feels like we’re trying to construct our own rope bridge out of sheer will — yet we still don’t have a strong hold on the other side to attach it to.
- Always keep more than one possibility in mind. Worry tries to convince us that there is only one certainty: that the bad thing will happen. We often forget that there are other possibilities: that the bad thing might not happen; that a good thing might happen instead; or that if the bad thing happens, it might not be so bad after all and we will be fine. Remember to keep the perspective that you could also be fine too.
- Empower yourself and develop a response strategy. If the absolute worst thing happened, what would you do? Who would you ask for help? What resources would you need? What things can you control now, and what things are out of your control?
- Then let that strategy go. The strategy is for the future. Keep it in a safe space, but remind yourself that you are living in the present and you don’t need it right now. Right now, in this very moment, you are okay. And you will be in the next moment. If you need the strategy in the future, you will know when to activate it. But that moment is not now.
- Lighten your thoughts. When you recognize your patterns of worrying thoughts, you can acknowledge them and then try to lighten them up a bit. If they’re catastrophic, think about things that could go right too. If they’re fixed in a certainty, change them to a possibility. If they’re future-focused, try to focus on the present and what is going right, right now.
- Speak to yourself like a best friend would. Would your best friend try to convince you of imminent disaster to throw you into a permanent state of terror? Hell no! (And if your friend does this, I’m concerned about you.) Your best friend instead would likely remind you that they’re there to help you, that you will get through this, that you have strengths and courage, and that eventually you will be okay. Your best friend would be nurturing and loving, and wouldn’t judge you for feeling scared. Be your own best friend.
- Maintain the both/and principle. You can be concerned, afraid, and strong at the same time. You can be concerned, afraid, and empowered at the same time. You can be afraid and okay at the same time. You can be afraid and love yourself at the same time. Accept all your feelings as being true, even if they seem to contradict each other. We don’t have to accept one aspect of ourselves while denying another. All aspects of ourselves, especially the worried and afraid ones, need to be validated and heard.
- Begin to look at what is causing you stress, fear, and worry with a view to really considering what life would look like if you let it all crash down upon you. Sometimes we have to do the slash-and-burn to start fresh and choose new directions in life; and sometimes when we hesitate, life does the slash-and-burn for us. What bigger aspects of your life aren’t working for you anymore, and what would that be like for you to walk away from them? What would you choose instead?
We’d love to hear your wisdom. Please leave a comment and let us know what strategies work for you when you feel worried or fearful of something bad happening.
How do you deal with it?
What worries are you ready to let go of?
Keep shining the insight light,