When Did You First Begin to Worry? (I got an early start…)

This is the first in a three-part series with tools you can use to help  you reduce stress, find calm and feel happier.

I can’t remember exactly when worrisome thoughts started popping up in mind. My guess is I was pretty young.

Jean - Toddler CropJust take a look at my toddler self on the beach in Cape Cod. What a serious look I’ve got on my face! Seems like I should have been happily playing in the sand…

What could I possibly have been thinking?

“Are there scary things in the water?

Uh-oh, where’d I put my pail and shovel?

Do these ruffles make my butt look big?”

Guess I’ll never know for sure what was going on in my head back then. But the fact is, most of us spend way too much time worrying. A recent study by Benendon Health revealed that:

The average person spends 5 years of their life worrying!

We worry about almost everything: having enough money, whether we’re in the right relationship, getting older, problems at work, our kids and our health. All this fretting takes a toll on our quality of sleep, performance at work and personal relationships. And even worse, it can lead us to engage in behaviors that don’t serve us well like overeating, drinking too much or spending hours online, all in an attempt to ease our anxieties. The result: we usually end up worrying even more and creating a negative thought-worry-behavior cycle that keeps repeating.

So, what’s a worrier to do?

Research says we have between 50,000-60,000 thoughts in a day. That’s more than enough to set even the calmest person to worrying about something! But there are steps you can take to de-stress and reduce your worries.

Merriam-Webster defines worry as: mental distress or agitation resulting from concern, usually for something impending or anticipated.

So when we worry, we are usually focusing on the future: what might happen, how we’ll react, what possible outcomes may occur. On an intellectual level, we may accept that we can’t know the future and our anxiety about it won’t change anything. But that doesn’t stop us from investing a lot of our time and energy imagining “what ifs” and worst case scenarios.

Break the worry cycle

One powerful way to break the worry cycle is to shift your attention from the future to the present. This technique is derived from the age-old practice of mindfulness (paying attention on purpose in the present moment, non-judgmentally). Here are the steps I take when I find myself hopping on the worry-go-round.

  1. Ground yourself in the present. Sit quietly with your arms and legs uncrossed and your feet flat on the floor. Take at least three deep breaths. Focus on feeling your breath as you inhale and exhale. Breath in peace and calm as you inhale and release what doesn’t serve you as you exhale. Feel yourself relax as you become centered in the present.
  2. Observe your thoughts non-judgmentally. Thoughts will pass through your mind. Observe them without judgment. Frequently we categorize them as “good” or “bad” and may then try to control, ignore or suppress the “negative” thoughts. But what typically happens when you give your attention to a thought (even to tell yourself to stop thinking it), is that it becomes more persistent. Remember that thoughts are just words. It is what you make them mean that causes you distress. 
  3. Release your troublesome thoughts. As you become the observer and stop judging your thoughts, they often start to pass more quickly, like clouds across the sky. Although this sounds simple, it can take a lot of practice. Don’t be surprised if your mind starts to wander and thoughts keep popping up – they will. Adding a mantra can help. My favorite is: In this moment, all is well. 

Note: The steps listed here are not intended as an explanation of mindfulness. There are many resources available on that topic. For more information, you may want to check-out the work of Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts.

What are your best strategies for dealing with worry and stress? Leave me a comment – I’d love  to know.

Watch for the second post in this series: Four Questions That Can Help You Say Goodbye to Worry and Find More Peace

Until next time…

2 thoughts on “When Did You First Begin to Worry? (I got an early start…)

  1. It’s so true, Jean.
    It’s the story we tell ourselves about the thought that makes us feel sad, angry, or left out.
    I breathe, notice what I’m thinking, and get coached by you! You’re an awesome coach Jean! Thank you.

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