“My life has been full of terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.”
You may recognize this as a quote from French Renaissance philosopher Michel De Montaigne, or maybe from your very own experience with worrying about things that never actually came to pass.
These imagined fears we hold for future events, even though they aren’t happening to us in the moment and probably never will, are harmful to our health nonetheless. Worrying has been demonstrated to negatively affect sleep, immunity, daily performance, and even our relationships with those around us.
Knowing this, your natural reaction may be to avoid worrying at all costs, but that will only cause you to worry about worrying, or worse, the feelings that you try to suppress may boil up under the surface and explode when you least expect it.
There’s a much better way to handle your worries however — indulge them.
When you find yourself starting to ruminate on some disaster that might befall you in the future, go along with it and ask yourself, “and then what?”
Akin to facing your fears, consciously getting involved with your worrisome thoughts will force you to be detached enough to consider the situation objectively.
Asking yourself “and then what?” also encourages you to move forward, as opposed to replaying the same scenario over and over again in your head, as we are wont to do when we fixate on a given problem.
Moving on to the next stage of the imaginary problem will either lead you to possible solutions, or diffuse the situation altogether. When you drag your fears out into the light of day, you may soon discover that they are unfounded, not as scary as you thought, or easier to fix than you had previously imagined!
To take it even further, you can schedule time in the day for worrying, and thus keep the intrusive thoughts out of your mind for the rest of the day.
“A study performed by researchers at Penn State separated participants into two groups. One group was told to schedule time to worry and the other group was told to continue worrying as usual. The individuals who scheduled time to worry experienced a significant decrease in anxiety, compared to the control group. Additionally, those individuals who scheduled time to worry also slept better.”
So there you have it. The key to not being consumed by worry is dedicating time for it, and staying engaged enough to do it well. Who knew?