Will I wake up early enough tomorrow to go fill up my car before work?
I can’t forget that I also need to get my allergy shot before my morning class.
How on earth am I going to meet all of these deadlines?
Will my kids get sick again when they’re already so far behind at school?
How can I keep from getting sick myself? Am I already getting sick? I sure feel tired.
Did my son feed the dogs? I don’t want the dogs to be hungry. Should I feed them again?
This meme pretty much describes my life:
I am always thinking about multiple things and most of those thoughts can be described as worries. I’m not alone. Depending on which research you read, it’s projected that the average person spends five to seven years of their life worrying.
Worrying this much worries me!
Five years is a lot of time to spend doing anything negative, especially when people with the most life experience tell us to stop.
Researchers at Cornell University found that people at the end of their lives say their biggest regret is having wasted so much time worrying.
The data is part of The Legacy Project, which, since 2004, has collected advice from more than 1,500 Americans ages 70 and older. Our elders realize what we haven’t yet figured out—worrying is a waste of time that we need to learn to control, then eliminate.
I wish I could tell you how to stop worrying. I can’t. I’m still working on controlling and eliminating my own worries. But I can share with you what’s working for me so far.
Three things that cause worry
I’ve thought a lot about what causes me to worry. If you want to read that differently, we could say that I’ve worried about why I worry, which is meta, ridiculous or both.
Through my worry analysis, I’ve discovered three things cause me to worry more than anything else:
- Lack of sleep – when I’m tired, I can’t control my thoughts. Getting enough sleep helps me keep from being stressed out and worried. Sometimes I can stop myself from worrying by just recognizing that I’m tried, being somewhat irrational and I need to rest.
- Lack of information – not understanding a situation, expectations, etc. causes me to worry unnecessarily. When I catch myself worrying because of something I don’t understand, I try to redirect that worry into information gathering.
- Lack of control – I am a bit (understatement) of a control freak. When I don’t have control of a situation, I tend to worry, especially if I don’t like the way things are going. When this happens, I use the techniques I’m going to explain next.
It’s great to know what most often causes me to worry, but that doesn’t really help if I can’t use the information to stop the worrying.
There are two pieces of advice that I like to think about when I catch myself worrying about something. This advice is somewhat related, but helps me refocus my attention on something worthy of my time.
First, in Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, he advises readers to “live in day-tight compartments.”
Carnegie encouraged readers to think only about what fits into today, not worrying about yesterday or tomorrow, but focusing on living today to the utmost.
I heard the second piece of advice in a video from Mel Robbins. The bonus videos came with Robbins’s book, The Five Second Rule (The link is my review of the book.). She calls it the “5x5x5 trick.” Robbins says you should ask yourself if what is bothering you will matter in five minutes, five days or five years. If not, you need to refocus your energy on something that matters.
I noticed when I first heard the advice that it seemed to be missing a step. After all, things may matter to me in five minutes or five days, might not mean a thing to me in five months. There’s no need to wait five years for irrelevance. I decided Robbins was missing a step important to me, so I altered the rule for my own application. It’s a 5×4 trick in my mind. If it won’t matter to me in five minutes, five days, five months, or five years, I admit my feelings about it (usually anger) and let it go.
It’s amazing how much understanding triggers for my worrying and applying these two simple methods of refocusing my thoughts helps me. I encourage you to try identifying what triggers your worries, then attempt to combat them using these tools.
Have any advice? Are you a worrier? What methods do you use to refocus yourself when worrying begins?