“How am I going to pay my bills? I have no money and no income. I don’t have a job. Where and how can I find employment? No one wants to hire me, I’m too old. I’m at the point where many companies offer buy-outs. Beside, the economy is terrible and no one is hiring. How am I going to pay my bills, I have no money?”
This is an example of a worry whirlpool that many of us experience. Worry is that quagmire of circular thinking we get stuck in when we are afraid, as it involves circular thoughts based on fear. We’ve all experienced it: if not about finance, then about relationships or performance.
Whether you are preparing for a date or just completed one, fear can produce worry. You might get stuck focusing on questions that have no immediate answer, for example. Before the date you might think: “Will he like me?” or “Am I dressed appropriately?” After the date, other questions can be found running around in your head. We frequently worry about what other people think about us and/or our performance. “Was that the correct way to handle the situation, or was there something else I should have done?” or perhaps “I wonder if they will be pleased with my presentation.”
One often-recommended method to counteract worry is to stop, take a deep breath, and let it out slowly while relaxing your body. If you are mired deep in the worry whirlpool, however, you can’t relax. If you find yourself stuck in this thought circle quagmire and are having a difficulty finding an escape, here’s a simple trick I found:
Stop the Worry Cycle
What works is to stop and focus externally on where you are physically, with no valuation or judgement. It’s that simple to stop the worry whirlpool.
Here’s an example:
Right now I am sitting on a chair with my feet on the ground, in my home office. The chair has wheels, a low back and no arm rests. It has a gray, burlap textured covering. I am typing on my computer keyboard. My keyboard is plastic and black with white letters.
Notice how it is all external details: just facts. I don’t mention that the burlap textured covering FEELS rough, as that would be a judgement. I don’t mention the small fan keeping me cool or that my office is a mess—those would all be judgements as well.
This thought process of focusing on the external physical facts stops the emotions in a manner that trying to “relax” muscles never manages to attain. I think that is because “relaxing” is internal and similar to an emotion, and it is emotion that triggers the cycle in the first place.
You see, emotions are first presented in the body. This is from the evolution of the fight-or-flight response controlled by the portion of the brain called the amygdala, which also handles emotion. To get past the emotion and think rationally, you need to activate your prefrontal cortex—the reasoning part of your brain. That’s what focusing on the external physical details does for you: it activates your brain’s reasoning center. Once the circling thoughts are stopped, you can begin thinking logically and rationally again to realize what you are afraid of and thinking about what, if any, actions you can take to reduce that fear.
You can use this process for many varieties of worry, because worry is a manifestation of anxiety: an emotional response. Once you can think without anxiety, you can develop a non-emotional plan of action, even if that action is nothing but deciding on acceptance of the reality that there is nothing you can do to change what happened.
Financial worry is usually a fear of failure. After stopping the circling thoughts, you are able to once again use the logical, rational part of your brain to identify this fear of failure. Then you can developed a plan of action, which really fights against fear.
Dating fear is the fear of the unknown. You don’t know what your date is thinking, and you can’t know without an extremely intimate and honest conversation. So, the first step is to stop the emotional thinking. Once you can stop the emotional response, you can rationally think about what you can and can’t do about it. You can call and ask your date about the plans and what the dress code might be. After the fact, you can’t change what happened on last night’s date, but you can learn from it and change how you act on the next one.
The next time you find yourself stuck in the worry whirlpool, stop and focus externally on your physical location and surroundings.