Have you ever lost sleep worrying about something that has yet to happen?
Has worrying about the future interrupted your productivity? Your flow? Your day? Your mood?
If you answered “yes”, you are not alone.
Worry happens to all of us, particularly when it comes to events, people, and things that are important.
The trouble with worry is it is a complete and total waste of our valuable time and energy. We all know that on a logical level, and yet we still worry.
Here’s the good news; while we may never learn how to stop worrying about the future completely, there are ways to help us better manage that worry so we can save ourselves some time. In this article, we’ll go over exactly how to do just that.
Worrying Wastes Time And Energy
“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” –Leo F. Buscaglia
Part of managing worry is being aware of the costs. When we create awareness we are better able to create proactive solutions to minimize or eliminate that cost.
- Cost #1: Worrying about what has yet to happen uses up valuable mental real estate and time.
“Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere” –Erma Bombeck
- Cost #2: While worry may give you something to do, you most likely have better things to do with your time and your energy. For example, you could instead focus on your to-do list or notice the multitude of opportunities waiting for you. Focusing on worry not only makes it difficult to handle your to-do list, it also blocks you from seeing those opportunities or the steps that lead to them.
- Cost #3: Worrying about the future is also an energy drain leaving you susceptible to more worry. Did you know that worry takes advantage of the times when your energy is low? That is when worry is at its most powerful.
- Cost #4: It is a present moment joy crusher that can lower not just your energy but also your mood.
- Cost #5: Speaking of mood; worry never gets you anywhere. Worry does not get you to a place where everything is OK. It does not make sure that everything is taken care of. Actually it does the opposite.
- Cost #6: Worrying about the future creates a vicious loop of more worry about the future.
What does worrying about the future cost you?
Tried and True Worry Busting Techniques
When I find myself worrying about the future, I use the following techniques to manage the worry. (Just a little side note: I like to switch it up a bit. I use a different technique each time I find myself worried about the future, or worried about anything for that matter.)
Since worrying about the future pulls us into the future, nothing busts worry faster than some good old fashion present moment mindfulness.
Take a look around and notice what is surrounding you. What do you see? What do you feel? What do you taste? What do you hear? What do you smell?
Taking note of your surroundings by using your senses is an awesome way to pull yourself into the present moment where future-related worry cannot bother you.
Do Deep Breathing
Have you ever noticed your breathing when you are worrying? If not, the next time you are worried about a future-related event check in with your breathing.
Worrying causes our breathing to become shallow. And, deep breathing can help us to relax and get us out of worry mode.
Here are two techniques to use to engage those deep breathes and cue the relaxation:
The first is the 4,4,and 4 technique. Give it a try right now by taking a deep breath in through your nose to a count of four. Then let the breath out through your nose or mouth to a count of four. Do that four times. (Another side note: Be sure to do this technique slowly so you do not hyperventilate or make yourself dizzy.)
The second technique is called Oxytocin Breathing because it actually releases the powerful hormone oxytocin into your brain. This is the same hormone that is released when you are hugging or kissing someone you love or after making love.
Just a word of caution: you may not want to do this breathing technique in the middle of your busy office or a crowded street. It is best to do it some place private.
Here’s how to do Oxytocin Breathing:
Take a REALLY deep breath so that you are filling up your belly with air. Once you feel your belly expand to the point that you can no longer take in any more air, release it slowly by letting out an audible “Haaaaaaaaaaaahhh”.
Repeat this technique a few times until you feel yourself relaxing.
Check out this video to see the technique in action.
By the way, worry hates deep breathing so this is one of the quickest and the easiest techniques to use.
Express Extra Gratitude
As you are probably already aware, worry creates negative thoughts (and feelings). Gratitude does the exact opposite.
Since your brain can not think positive and negative thoughts at the same time gratitude is an awesome worry buster. Not to mention it’s something you can do any where, any time, especially when you are short on time.
I actually use gratitude when worry wakes me up in the middle of the night. When this happens, I begin listing all the things I am grateful for until I fall back to sleep. It works like a charm.
Similar to the present moment exercise, take a look around.
Really quickly begin listing at least three things (or more) that you are grateful for. It could be the chair you are sitting in or the sleeping pet at your feet. Just start listing and before you know it the feeling of gratitude will replace the negative feeling that worry causes.
Lean Into “What Ifs”
It is all too common to want to shove worry aside or try and stuff it. Especially when you have a tight project deadline or a calendar full of obligations. Doing so, however, is just an invitation for the worry to stick around even longer.
Rather than try to ignore the worry, lean into by asking yourself the following question, “What if what I’m worrying about were to actually happen?”
Once you have your answer then ask yourself this follow-up question, “Then what would happen?” Keep asking the follow-up question until you have run out of “then what’s”.
I always find that doing this exercise takes the bite out of worry. I also walk away with a plan should what I’m worrying about actually happen. (Which, by the way, usually does not happen.)
Take Back Control
“If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.” — The Dalai Lama
What do you have control over? What can you fix? What can you do to prevent whatever you are worrying about from happening?
For many us worry creates a feeling of being out of control and not safe. Doing things that are within our control helps us to regain those feelings of control and safety.
Tighten and Release
When you are worried, do you often feel a tightness in your stomach or your neck? Use that tightness to help you relax.
It sounds funny, but go ahead and tighten every muscle in your body. Tighten your legs, suck in your stomach, clench your bottom, tighten your arms, and make fists. Hold your muscles in that tight position for just a moment, and then release all your muscles.
This technique is called Progressive Muscle Relaxation. It combats worry and even stress by creating awareness around what the body feels like when it is in a relaxed state. And when you are in a relaxed state you are not in a state of worry.
Use Worry As A Gauge
Worry serves as a great gauge to let us know what is important and what is not. When you are worrying about something, tune-in to the gauge.
How important is what you are worrying about on a scale of 1-10? If you gave it a 5 or less, ask yourself this question,”Since this thing I’m worried about isn’t super important, what is really driving the worry?”
If you gave it a 5 or higher then it’s time to turn worry into a motivator to start taking action. To help, go back to the Take Back Control technique and ask yourself those questions.
Write or Talk It Out
Getting worry out of your head diminishes it. It is like the old analogy that if you shine a light on bacteria it dies. But if you keep it in the dark it grows.
If you do not feel comfortable talking it out with a friend, family member, coach, or another trusted professional, try writing about it. Get it all out on paper and then throw the paper away.
Writing about your future-related worry takes the charge out of it and creates more clarity and awareness.
Worrying Has Nothing On You
The next time you find yourself worrying about the future:
- Create awareness around what the worry is costing you.
- Use one or more of the worry busting techniques.
- Remember that you are not alone when it comes to worrying (we all do it).
So, there you have it. By following the steps above you’ll be able to have a more worry-free life so that you can reclaim your precious time and get stuff done!
Featured photo credit: Freely via freelyphotos.com