Worrying Less in 5 Steps
In life there are ups and downs, or as the classic Eastern saying puts it “life is filled with 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows.” In this statement, there’s the wisdom that all things come and go, though our brains have a tendency to amplify the sorrows and minimize the joys in the flow of life (there were good evolutionary reasons for this but they no longer serve us in modern day).
Whenever the brain perceives something as “bad” it starts to worry about it. But oftentimes there is no real utility to the worry – it only serves to dig us into a deeper hole and blinds us to the joys that might be waiting around the corner.
There really is no way to cure worrying, but we can learn to get better and better at recognizing it and gently guiding ourselves back to a sense of perspective on what matters.
I’d like to share 5-steps to help you start worrying less:
Soften your understanding of worry
The utility of worry is to try to anticipate and avoid any potential dangers and to keep us safe. It’s the brain’s way of trying to protect us so worrying certainly has its place and time. But often times worrying only serves to ramp up our nervous system and kick us into an imbalanced place that only leads to more worrying. The brain has good intentions but it can put us into a destructive vicious cycle. This is an important first step to worrying less.
Allow/Accept the feeling
Worrying usually arouses the feeling of fear or anxiety. However if we choose to allow and accept the negative feeling, we can acknowledge that this feeling is present and call it out. We don’t want to resist the feeling because what we resists persists. So instead, the idea is to practice allowing things to be as they are. Here, you are saying to yourself, “allowing, allowing, allowing.”
Feel into it with kindness
Now we have the opportunity to deepen our awareness and investigate the feeling. You may choose to put your hand on your heart or wherever you feel the sensation in your body. This is one way of signaling to the brain a sense of love or kindness to the unpleasant feeling which can help to transform it. The brain also maps the sensation of the touch with is inversely correlated with mental rumination, turning the volume down on negative thinking.
1. As you feel into it you might ask, “What does this feeling believe?” Does it believe you are unlovable, unworthy? If you allow it to be, can it actually consume you?
2. Ask the question, “What does this feeling need right now? Does it need to feel cared for, to feel secure, to feel a sense of belonging?”
3. Whatever the answer, see if you can plant these as seeds in yourself. For example you can plant the seeds of intention saying, “May I feel safe and secure, may I be free from this fear, may I feel a sense of belonging.” Make this personal to whatever your needs are.
Expand awareness and wishes to all people
Whatever the worrying is about, it’s important you know you’re not alone. Feeling vulnerable is part of the human condition and millions of people struggle with the same source of vulnerability that you experience. But when we’re feeling vulnerable with anxiety it’s often personal – we need to try to impersonalize the experience and get outside of ourselves.
You can do this by imagining all the other people who struggle worrying and wish them all the same intentions that you just wished yourself.
For example, “May we all feel a sense of safety and security, May we all be free from the fear that keeps us stick in a perpetual cycle of worry, May we all feel that sense of belonging, etc…”
Repeat steps 1-4 over whenever you feel worried or stressed
Steps one through four spell the acronym SAFE. As you intentionally practice feeling SAFE, in time you will notice that you start to become less reactive to the worried mind, and more compassionate with yourself when worry arises. Your perspective will shift as you recognize that worrying is part of the human condition and that you are not alone with this experience.
If we are able to turn the volume down and worrying less, we open to a sense of spaciousness, ease, and joy.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
Adapted from Mindfulness & Psychotherapy
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