Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy. ~Leo Buscaglia
I’m a recovering worrier. I have a long history of worrying, and I learned from the master. My dad had elevated worrying to an artform. It wasn’t until the final months of his life when he truly learned to live in the moment. During my last visit with him, when he was already very ill, he told me how he’d learned to “appreciate every flower, and every butterfly.” It sounds trite, but it resonated deeply with me, coming from a man who had spent so much of his life doing the exact opposite.
I was also fortunate that I had a feline master teacher who showed me how useless worrying is. During her illness, Buckley taught me how to stay in the moment and not get ahead of myself with worry. Even on her bad days, she never spent any time worrying about things like a bad test result or a poor prognosis. She did not waste precious moments wondering what every single new symptom might mean. She did not let herself obsess about a worst-case scenario, as so many humans (including me) would do in a similar situation.
She taught me that I could help her more by focusing on her well-being rather than worrying about whether she was going to get better. It was a constant process of redirecting my thoughts to something more positive, whenever the old pattern of worry reared its ugly head.
Did I stop worrying completely? No. I’m not a cat, I’m a human with all the flaws and shortcomings of the species. But I learned that there are some simple steps all of us can take that will help short-circuit the worry cycle.
1. Realize that you are in control. You may not be able to control the situation you’re worrying about, but you can control how you react. Victor E. Fankl’s writes in Man’s Search for Meaning:”Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
2. Create a “worry period.” Don’t make it longer than 15 minutes, and try to do it at the same time every day. During that period of time, you can worry about everything and anything you want. Let yourself go crazy. Imagine the worst case scenario. But that’s the only time of the day you get to do that. The rest of the day is a worry-free zone. If any thoughts of worry come up during the day, jot them down, then let them go. Remember, you can worry about them during your worry period.Chances are that after a few days of doing this, you’ll realize how pointless worrying is.
3. Accept uncertainty. Thinking about everything that could go wrong doesn’t make life any more predictable. We can’t control everything. Sometimes, things just happen. The only thing you can control is how you respond (see above).
4. Keep things in perspective. How many times do things really turn out as bad as you pictured them in your worries? Will any of the things you worried about still matter a year from now?
5. Relax with your cats. You can’t be anxious and relaxed at the same time. Relaxing with your cats will calm your runaway mind, and as a result, you’ll worry less.
Are you a worrier? What has helped you break the worry cycle?