We all worry, but some of us worry more than others but worrying is rarely productive and can be bad for your health. I work with lots of parents who are stressed, anxious and tense and they unconsciously pass their anxiety down to their kids, who pick up on their energy. So here’s how people who don’t let worry get to them operate.
They focus on the present.
Perhaps one of the biggest differences between worriers and non-worriers is the ability to stay in the present, and not get bogged down by things that have yet to happen. Purdon calls it a “worry chain” — the idea that one worry will spur a “what if,” which spurs another worry and another “what if,” and so on. Non-worriers are able to look at a problem and recognise what solution needs to be implemented, “but a worrier isn’t able to get that kind of distance,” she explains. “The mind goes a lot faster.”
For instance, say your son comes home with a bad grade. If you’re a worrier, you might then worry that this will cause your son to fail the class, which will then impair him from getting into college. However, if you’re a non-worrier, you’ll realise that the immediate issue at hand is just that your son needs to study harder in this particular class — and that’s that. “I’m able to say, ‘He usually does really well, he’s smart, he’s dedicated, he’ll be fine; this is a blip, not a pattern,’” Purdon says. Whereas when worriers become anxious, their “intentional focus narrows to threat cues. They can get themselves very anxious very quickly.”
They practice mindfulness
Because staying in the present is so fundamental to squashing worry, practising mindfulness can help you to steer focus away from a hypothetical issue that could develop down the road. “It keeps you in the here and now and it helps you be more aware of your thoughts,” Purdon says.
And therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy, can also help worriers stop the negative cycle, since they focus “on the idea of not wrestling and disconfirming the worries, but getting people to focus on their life and values and focus on the present moment so they can make decisions,” Moser adds.
They don’t stop worrying — they just designate time for it.
“One of the reasons why people engage their worry is they think, ‘This is an issue I must sort out now, I have to anticipate and plan against these outcomes.’ It grabs attention off what they need to be attending to, whether it be job, spouse, kids, whatever,” Purdon explains. So, she recommends using a strategy called the “worry chair.” It works like this — reserve a 15-minute time during the day where you can just think and ponder over your worries on your own. Don’t worry outside those 15 minutes, and make sure that you’re spending your worry session in the same spot (hence the term “worry chair”!) each day.
“What that means is when you’re worried during the day, you can say, ‘I’ll think about that later. I can switch my attention off that and go on to other things,’” Purdon says. “And what they find is, ‘I’m not even worried about that anymore.’ But giving them permission to worry about it, but later, allows them to switch the attention away from the thought.”
They have confidence they can handle whatever comes at them.
“People with high worry not only generate ideas about what could go wrong, they also lack confidence in their ability to cope with what could go wrong,” Purdon explains, adding that this is ironic considering worriers actually perform quite well in a crisis since they’ve spent so much time thinking about the worst-case scenarios and have normal coping abilities. Non-worriers, on the other hand, possess the confidence that if something were to happen, they’ll just … handle it.
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