|| Return to Emotions & Relationships ||

"How To Stop Yourself From WORRYING"

line graphic

Dear Friend:

Most of us worry from time to time. Some worry occasionally, only when difficult situations arise. Others worry more often, usually about specific areas of their lives, such as health, a key relationship, children, money, job security or the like.

Some people worry constantly. If they have nothing specific to worry about, they will think something up. Even worse, they might unconsciously create a difficult problem or situation, just to have something "real" to worry about.

Whichever group you may belong to, any advice you may have received about dealing with worry probably hasn't helped all that much.

There are reasons for this.

No matter what you read or whom you listen to, your ability to eliminate worry may not have increased as a consequence. In this report, I'm going to explain why.

Years ago, I worried fairly often. Now, I hardly ever worry, no matter what happens to me or to others close to me. How did I make this change? I'll explain in a moment. The answer is not a simplistic one. But first, let's examine...

A Few Key Points About Worry

Point #1--Most People Are Very Capable Of Eliminating Worry

Most people have the ability to eliminate worry whenever they want. They aren't psychologically handicapped or "challenged" in any way. Nor are they lacking in intelligence, commitment, or desire to make their worry go away.

Mostly, what keeps us from successfully conquering worry is a lack of understanding. Much of what we've been taught about worry (and other moods and emotions) isn't really true. As a result, we lack certain distinctions that are critical for making worry naturally disappear. Once these distinctions are in place, however, your ability to deal with worry can rise dramatically.

Point #2--Do You Know What Worry Really Is?

Whether you call worry a mood or an emotion doesn't matter very much. In fact, if you call worry a mood, you don't get any less of it. Call it an emotion, and it persists just the same. But what if you call worry a habit? Now, a habit is something you can do something about!

Good News!!!

Lucky for you, worry is a habit! It's not a natural state of human life, nor is it necessarily a good or positive thing. Worry is just an automatic habit of thinking and responding to certain events in life. It's produced by specific thoughts (i.e., conversations) and behaviors (i.e., action patterns) that get triggered automatically inside our bodies.

If you've purchased my book The 14 Day Stress Cure or my tape album Your Personal Stress Coach and you received my Pocket Stress Coach index cards with them, take out your index card for worry and look at it right now. Turn to the side marked "CONVERSATIONS" and look at the statements numbered 1-4. This is how you have to be thinking in order to feel worried (if you don't have the card, just follow along--you'll be just fine):

  1. You've got to be assuming something bad might happen in the future.
  2. You've got to be assuming someone or something will be hurt or harmed.
  3. You've got to be thinking that if you just worry hard enough, somehow you'll keep bad things from happening (psychologists call this "Magical Thinking.")
  4. Most people believe that if they didn't worry, it would mean they don't really care.

These are the habitual thought patterns that cause worry to occur. Now, flip the card over and let's examine the habitual ACTION PATTERNS that either cause worry to occur or keep it from resolving:

A. Trying to magically influence external situations or events (i.e. doing the equivalent of a rain dance!)
B. Indulging in worry instead of acting to eliminate or deal with a situation.
C. Trying to deal with situations yourself (when you lack the necessary skill or experience to do so competently).
D. Failing to seek help from others (who do have the competence to assess and/or solve your problem).

We'll come back to these specific thoughts and behavior patterns later on. Be clear, however, that the more you habitually engage in these specific thoughts and behaviors...the more worry you will have. And vice versa.

Point #3--Do You Know How To Distinguish Realistic From Unrealistic Worry?

All instances of worrying are not the same. Sometimes, we may worry for good, realistic reasons. If you live in a high crime area, for example, you should probably worry about walking around alone at night. If you frequently engage in unprotected sex with multiple partners, you should be worried about getting AIDS (and other sexually transmitted diseases). And if you are a senior citizen and worry that Newt Gingrich is out to reduce your Medicare benefits, you might have good cause to worry (even though I don't believe things will turn out badly for you, whatever Congress decides).

But what if you still are worrying that the Russians are going to nuke us any day now? Or how about if you live in fear that someone infected with the HIV virus will breathe on you or cough in your face? These are examples of unrealistic worry. They are based upon exaggerated concerns of future hurt or harm.

NOTE: An exaggerated concern doesn't mean that the bad event or circumstance could never conceivably happen. Worriers often argue that the possibility is not zero. But it is the probability, not the possibility, that distinguishes realistic from unrealistic worry. How probable is it that the Russians will launch a nuclear missile in our direction tomorrow? How probable is it that you will catch AIDS from casual contact with an infected person? In most cases of unrealistic worry, the possibility may be present, but the probability is just about zero.

Point #4--What's The Difference Between Productive and Non-Productive Worry?

Sometimes worry can actually motivate us to take effective action. I call this productive worry, to distinguish it from its much more prevalent non-productive counterpart. If you've been goofing off and not preparing well for an upcoming test or major task, worrying about failing might be very appropriate (i.e., realistic). Even more, if this nagging feeling of worry causes you to buckle down and prepare more seriously, then in addition to being realistic worry, it becomes productive worry as well.

Unfortunately, most of the time people are engaged in either unrealistic or non-productive worry (or both). In our modern culture, worry is even accepted as a substitute for taking action. People who do nothing but worry incessantly about their problems can console themselves by saying "Well, at least I'm doing something (i.e., worrying) about my problems."

Why All This Advice Rarely Helps

You can completely understand everything I've said so far and still not find it easy to stop yourself from worrying. What are the reasons for this?

The answers can be found by considering the next four points.

Point #5--Human Automaticity And Conditioned Body Responses

As human beings, we are programmed to respond in automatic ways. The thought patterns and behavior patterns we engage in most of the time are not, in large part, under our direct voluntary control. Things happen in life, and our bodies respond automatically. Unconscious conversations and action patterns kick in, and our moods and emotions follow in their wake.

This is why you can understand a whole lot about worry intellectually, and your body will keep right on worrying despite what you know. You can, for example, know that it's silly to worry about losing your job or getting struck down with a serious illness, but your body goes on worrying about these things nonetheless. That's just our human nature. If our bodies have become used to worrying over time, they will continue to do so no matter how hard we try to intervene.

It's important to recognize that from our body's standpoint, worrying almost always seems to work! If you worry about your job every day and you don't lose it, your body will conclude that it was worrying that paid off. Even though worrying had nothing to do with you keeping your job, it will be hard to convince your body otherwise. Thus, worry tends to beget even more worry, at least as far as your body is concerned.

Also, worry is associated with "caring" in your body. When you worry, your body sends you warm, fuzzy messages. It says "you care about people" or "you are really a concerned human being." To give up worrying, therefore, is anathema to your body (and your self-image). Your body will tend to hold on to this silly habit, and if you ever decide to free yourself from it, your body will resist you strenuously.

Point #6--Worry Is Often Due To A Lack Of Wisdom

Another key point is the relationship between worry and a lack of insight or wisdom about life. People who are very wise about life tend not to worry very much. On the other hand, when people don't understand how life really works, they feel vulnerable and insecure. They often can't get life to turn out as they'd like, and as a result, they are much more fearful that bad things will ultimately happen to them (as they often do). It is very, very hard to get such people to give up worrying.

This is why much of the simplistic advice about how to stop worrying doesn't work for the majority of individuals. It's one thing to tell someone to "live life one day at a time" or "don't worry about things you can't personally control." It's quite another thing, however, to become the type of person who can live life this way (and truly mean it).

In my youth and early adulthood, I lacked a great deal of wisdom about life. I also tended to worry quite a bit. Now, I understand a whole lot more about how life really works, and as I've slowly accumulated this knowledge over the years, my tendency to worry has correspondingly diminished.

How do you gain such wisdom? Ah, that's the perfect question to ask. I just wish I had the perfect answer to give you. I do know that most people don't acquire deep insight and wisdom quickly or easily. They have to seek it out and spend many years testing out a variety of new perspectives. Once you've done this, you'll know exactly what I mean.

NOTE: Wisdom is not exclusively an intellectual thing. You know a person has true wisdom because their thoughts, actions, and accomplishments in life are congruent. In other words, they don't just think themselves out of worry. They consistently act in ways that reduce their chances of experiencing failure, disappointment, or serious harm.

Point #7--Worry Often Stems From A Lack Of Trust

Another key dynamic in the phenomenon of worry is trust. When you don't trust yourself to master the demands of life, you tend to worry. And when you don't trust others to help you overcome your weaknesses, you also tend to worry for the very same reason.

When you have a great deal of trust, however, that no matter what happens in life you'll come out okay, you won't worry very much. Attaining this advanced degree of trust is not easy. But it can be accomplished if you obtain the right support, guidance, and proper understandings.

As my level of trust in myself, in others, and in the universe as a whole has expanded over the years, my old habits of worrying have gradually dropped away.

Point #8--Worry Often Stems From Overinvestment In Life

One final point to consider is how easy it is to become overinvested in life. By "investment in life" I mean caring about a particular or specific outcome. When you need things in life to happen in very specific ways (in order to feel happy or satisfied), you set yourself up for repeated disappointment. Thus, "bad things" will happen to you much more frequently, and you'll be fueling your body to worry more intensely.

If, on the other hand, you take a more philosophical approach to life, your tendency to worry will not be as strong. YouÍll be confident that there can be multiple ways for life to work out, so you won't tend to value any one particular outcome above all the rest.

While this approach isn't applicable to every area of life, the more attached you are to having life go one particular way, the more you will worry that it won't end up as you want. Again, giving up such overattachment is not easy. Which again is why much of the simplistic advice about worry isn't helpful.

How To Stop Worrying

Given all that I've said so far, let me now try to offer you a few general caveats about how to cope with worry. The way you choose to deal with worry will vary, depending upon which subgroup of worrying you want to address.

A. The occasional worrier (situation dependent)

If you only worry occasionally, when certain uncommon situations arise, you can do yourself a lot of good by realizing that your body has been triggered to think and respond in worry-producing ways.

Take out the index card I included with this newsletter and look over the specific thoughts and behavior patterns that must be operating within you. Then consider each one separately, and see if you can combat it. If you can't think of ways to do this on your own, ask yourself the following types of questions:

  1. Is my worrying realistic or unrealistic?
  2. Is my worrying likely to be productive or non-productive?
  3. Am I really doing a rain dance by thinking I can magically influence external events?
  4. Am I continuing to worry mainly because I don't want to be viewed as someone who doesn't care? If so, can I separate caring about someone from feeling compelled to worry about them?
  5. Am I worrying about something that could be resolved with effective action?
  6. Am I worrying about something that I don't know enough about to resolve myself? If so, why am I not asking others for help?
  7. Am I worrying because I trusted myself to handle something I really am not experienced enough to handle?

In most cases, if you just stop to ask yourself these questions, you will break up your body's worry habit, at least temporarily. Since you only worry occasionally, your internal programming probably isn't all that strong, so you should be able to overcome it with logic and careful reasoning, or by seeking assistance and clarification from others.

B. The frequent, but specific, worrier

If you frequently worry about the same types of issues in life (health, relationships, job security), stop trusting yourself to handle your fears. Realize you probably lack the necessary insights and wisdom at this time. Learn instead to rely upon and trust the wisdom of others whom you respect and who have demonstrated competence in the areas where you need help.

Become a student of the areas that are troubling you and slowly learn to increase your own trust and wisdom. Such trust and wisdom will not come quickly or easily. But as you begin to acquire it, your worry will naturally lessen.

C. The incessant, global worrier

If you tend to worry constantly, and if you've been regularly doing so for years, nothing simple is going to help you stop. Consider getting psychotherapy to explore your deep seated need to worry and the skewed, unrealistic view of the world that supports this habitual tendency.

In addition, give serious thought to engaging in some time honored de-conditioning exercises, such as the Eastern practices of Tai Chi or meditation. These will probably be necessary for you, since your body has become so conditioned to worrying that no amount of intellectual insight alone will be powerful enough to overcome your bodyÍs internal worrying machinery.

What Made The Difference For Me?

As I've already mentioned, my own transition from a frequent to an infrequent worrier took many years to unfold. Along the way, the following elements made the biggest difference, as far as I can tell:

  1. Understanding the specific thought patterns and behavior patterns that cause worry to occur (see Index Card).
  2. Understanding the nature of human automaticity.
  3. Increasing my knowledge/wisdom about life.
  4. Increasing my willingness to trust others to help me cope with problems when I don't really have the competence or expertise to solve them myself.
  5. Lessening my attachment/investment to specific material things or outcomes in life.
  6. Taking a more philosophic view of everything that happens in life.

As I review this list, I'm struck by how much these items differ from the typical advice people receive about worry. But I shouldn't be surprised, since most typical advice doesn't work, and these things actually did!

Well, I hope you enjoyed this special report about worry.

Wishing you good health, happiness, and much success,

Mort Orman, M.D.

Copyright © 1996-2010 M.C. Orman, MD, FLP. All rights reserved.

Go to the Top of the Page || Return to Emotions & Relationships