Worry is a powerful emotion. So powerful in fact that it keeps many of us up at night. The good news is, there are specific things that we can do to reduce this anxious feeling. I truly believe that we are meant to have beautiful, worry-free lives. It takes a great deal of work and courage, but if we develop the skills to overcome worry, we will find ourselves filled with more peace and happiness.
So what causes us to worry? There are four main triggers that cause anxiety in our lives:
- The unpredictability of the future – The unknown is scary for many people, and not knowing exactly how something is going to go can feel debilitating.
- Our own expectations – We have a strong desire for things to go a certain way, and we worry that they won’t go the way we planned.
- The lack of control we have over the future – It’s impossible to control the future, this much we understand. It’s this very understanding that causes us to worry and feel anxious. We crave the very thing that we know we can’t have.
- The high value we give to certain things that we want to control – The more something matters to us, the more we crave that things go a certain way.
Let’s use an example to further explore these four points. You’re going to the doctor tomorrow morning for a check-up. This event is in the future, but you’re probably not too worried about this appointment because it’s only a check-up. You also don’t feel a strong desire to control this scenario because the doctor has training that you don’t and he or she is the one who will examine you. Last, the value we place on this check-up might not be very high because again, it’s only a routine visit.
Let’s tweak this scenario slightly. You still have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow, but you’re finding out if you have life-threatening stage 4 cancer. You probably want this appointment to go a certain way, and that is of course to find out that you’re okay. You want control in this scenario because you want to find out that you’re healthy. And there isn’t much that you can do, so you worry as a result. Lastly, you want to live a long and healthy life so you place a very high value on this doctor’s visit.
These two examples illustrate how worry can get a hold of our hearts and as a result, cause us to struggle. You may be thinking, wanting to be healthy and to live is a legitimate worry! And we’ll get to that in just a moment. For now, let’s focus on the fact that the steps laid out can be applied to any scenario. Maybe we have a test tomorrow, or are going on a first date, or are remodeling our kitchen. Some of these may even sound silly to you, but when it’s our own worries, it’s a different story. These worries can feel debilitating at times and may even result in a panic attack. For those of us who have experienced this, you know how scary they can be.
So how do we free ourselves from these worries?
The first thing we want to do is gather and assess information, as objectively as possible. Can you imagine if your doctor worried about every case that he or she faced? They’d be exhausted. They don’t do this because they are solution-based and realistic. They also have a deep understanding of what they can and cannot control.
When we take a step back and assess the situation, we’re able to better understand what we have control over and what we don’t have control over. Once we know the things we can control, we have the capability to tackle our problems by getting chemotherapy, or counseling, or getting into debt collection, or whatever it may be. The best way to tackle our worries is by taking action on the things that are within our control.
We can prefer things to go a certain way, but it’s important that we don’t require them to. Life doesn’t always go the way we planned, and once we accept this fact, we can lead happier lives. If we fight life and try to control the uncontrollable, we suffer as a result. This is because things often do not go as planned, and it’s important to recognize that and prepare ourselves accordingly. I’m not providing you with new information here. We all know that life doesn’t always go the way we planned, but if we want to be happy throughout our lives, it’s important that we say “and that’s okay” when life takes a different path than the one we originally chose.
And last but not least, let’s discuss high value. We want to make happiness our highest value, not control. This moves the focus from how we can control situations to how we respond to situations and problems. We are only in control of our internal reactions and outward responses to life. When we internalize this fact and place our own peace and happiness above anything else, we can relax a bit. I would even argue that when we let go of this control, we are happier in general. Instead of focusing on our worries about the future, we can enjoy the journey and place a higher value on the joyful times.
Life is always going to have different plans than you intended, and that is completely okay. When we can say, I will work towards accepting and loving my life, no matter, we’ll find that peace is always there, walking us home.