One of my favorite authors, Eckhart Tolle, is quoted
saying “Worry pretends to be necessary but serves no useful purpose”. The first time I read that statement I was
confused and excited at the same time thinking things like:
- As a mother, isn’t part of my job to worry?
- Isn’t it naïve to assume everything will be fine
and that there’s no need to worry?
- If it’s true that worry isn’t necessary then why
am I doing it all the time?
- How will problems be solved if I don’t worry
- How can I learn to stop worrying?
First, it’s important to understand that the human mind
is a problem-solving machine. Every
invention you have the privilege of living with was created by the power of
someone’s problem-solving mind.
However, there is a big difference between
problem-solving and worrying.
Problem-solving invites answers and solutions to questions and worrying invites
pain and discomfort in addition to more questions.
Second, worry is focused on things that could happen in
the future. For mothers, worry is one of
those emotions that we tell one another we should experience without realizing
This week I’m going to discuss what worry really is, why
you worry and how to stop.
The reason the quote from Eckhart is so exciting and
confusing at the same time is because it challenges you to question what you’ve
been taught to believe. It shines a
light on something that you’ve taken for granted as a necessary part of life
and it offers you the chance to see things differently.
Worry is an emotion in the “fear family”. It’s a tricky emotion because you’ve most
likely been taught not only to worry for yourself but to also help others by
telling them what you think they should be worried about.
For example, you wouldn’t say to a friend “I noticed you
are sad about what happened so let me give you some more reasons that you
should be sad” however you might say “I was worried about the same thing as you
and here’s some things you may not have considered”. Without realizing it you may perpetuate
someone else’s feeling of worry with your own concerns and vice versa.
As part of the “fear family”, worry is your brain’s way
of sensing danger and protecting you.
Your primitive brain is motivated by three things, to avoid pain, seek
pleasure and to be efficient therefore fear is a primal emotion.
To illustrate this, imagine a version of the game show
“Family Feud” where all the fear-based emotions like worry, anxiety, panic,
shame, hopelessness and jealousy are all lined up on one side of the
stage. These emotions are all different
members of the “fear family” and they all come from a common belief that you
need to be protected from something.
Your natural intuition to avoid something that is
dangerous is important to honor however as you develop from a young girl to a
woman to a mother, your natural intuition can become warped. You may begin to use the filter of fear to
anticipate the future and begin believing that worry is necessary.
Why you worry
Since fear is a natural part of your brains evolution
then isn’t worry also natural? While
fear may be natural, the future-focused feeling of worry is often taken to an
extreme that wreaks havoc on your ability to handle your life, your
relationships as well as your ability to parent.
The reason it has gotten so out of hand is because it is
one of the only negative emotions that you believe you SHOULD experience. You believe you are looking out for someone’s
welfare when you pass along things to be worried about and you believe the
validity of other people’s worries when they share them with you as well.
It seems like you’re “all in this together”, swapping
concerns, pointing out things that someone else may not have considered or
telling cautionary tales. When you read
or hear about something that triggers fear or worry for you, it seems helpful
to share those things with others and vice versa.
Worry becomes even more powerful when you become a parent
because it seems like you are handed a “worry card” as they check you out of
the hospital. You get the message that every
single aspect of your child’s life is in your hands so you better be prepared
with as much information about what could go wrong as you can.
For example, when I was pregnant with my first child I
was blissfully unaware of horrible pregnancy and delivery stories because every
woman in my family thankfully kept them to themselves. However, when I was at work or even at the
grocery store, well-meaning people would share things that were intended to
inform me but actually only created worry like labor and delivery horror
The process of worry often begins when some future
outcome is uncertain and you want to make sure it turns out well. Since living with uncertainty is so
uncomfortable, your mind spins in “what if” scenarios trying to find some sense
of control over the unknown.
Unfortunately when you spend so much time worrying and
then nothing bad happens, which is actually most of the time, your mind creates
a connection which can become a belief. This
pattern creates a thought error in your brain that can look like:
If I worry ->
It prevents harmful things from happening
You may also have thought errors like “Worrying now will
help me to not be disappointed if something bad does actually happen later” or
“If I don’t worry it will seem like I don’t care”. Believing that worry insulates you and others
in some way is why it can be difficult to change the habit, but not
How to stop worrying
Worry is one of those insidious emotions that will keep
you stuck and much less effective at being able to handle a situation if it
does actually happen. It’s important to
understand that when you are worried or on edge your nervous system is on high
An overabundance of worry and stress is like a slow
poison to the body. Your body releases
hormones like cortisol and dopamine in response to your thoughts which then
affects your blood pressure, heart rate, sleep patterns, reproductive functions
and short-term memory among many other things.
An interesting term that I recently heard from Gretchen
Rubin, the author of The Happiness Project, is the term
“awfulizing”. This is when you take a
situation and spin out worst case scenarios in your mind assuming that the
worst is what’s going to happen.
In order to help you stop worrying, I first want you to
measure your level of worry on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the worst. Once you’ve determined where you are on the
worry scale, you can use the following suggestions:
Scale of 1 – 4
(you feel good most of the time but have occasional
This is when the problem-solving part of your brain is
the most helpful. When you realize that
you are heading towards worry, you can begin to ask yourself “What CAN I do in
Often when you worry about something it means you are
future-focused and problem-focused rather than solution-focused. Understanding that the feeling of worry comes
from your thoughts and you always have control over your thoughts helps to take
back control when you are starting to feel a little out of control.
The feeling of worry only weakens your ability to take
action if there is something to be done.
Since worry won’t change the diagnosis, help you lose weight or make
your children never drink and drive you can instead ask an empowering question
that focuses your attention on something you can do to take you out of the worry
When you can pause and ask yourself an empowering
question, you give your brain something to focus on rather than “awfulizing”
the situation. Stopping to consider what
you CAN do taps into the more practical, less dramatic part of your brain which
allows you to make a rational choice, whether it’s to take some action or not.
The next time you start to awfulize a situation, tap in
the problem-solving part of your brain and ask “What CAN I do in this
moment?” Taking charge is always an
Scale of 5 – 7
(you feel distracted with worry more than
you would like)
One of my favorite authors, Byron Katie, offered a
powerful worry solution in her book Loving What Is. In the book she tells the story about her
daughter who had a drug problem. She was
waiting for her daughter to get home one night and was sick with worry because
she was late.
In Katie’s mind she began imagining her daughter dead on
the road, in a horrible accident or having hurt someone else. She was spinning in “what if” scenarios that
were taking over her mind and her body.
Her solution was to take a moment to pause and ask “What
is true in this moment?” The ONLY thing
that was true in that moment was “Mother, sitting in chair, waiting for
daughter”. That was it.
The awfulizing story she had created in her mind was just
that, a creation. When she stopped the
story and asked what was true in that moment, the dramatic story couldn’t hold
Since worry is so future-focused, being fully present
with the truth of this moment is how worry becomes unnecessary. When you create
the awareness that worry doesn’t make a situation better, it doesn’t change the
outcome and you won’t be glad afterwards that you spent so much time distracted
with worry you can become more present.
The next time you feel distracted with worry ask yourself
“What is true in this moment?” and only focus on this moment. It’s the only one that really matters.
Scale of 8 – 10
feel out of control with worry and it’s affecting everything in your life)
When you get to this point on the worry scale, it can
feel like you have a hurricane in your mind that is swirling around, picking up
more and more negative thoughts until it grows to an alarming category 5. This is not the time to just practice
thinking pretty, happy thoughts because you’ve got too much momentum going.
Instead of suggesting that you try to completely change
your thoughts, I suggest that you make a “worry appointment”. This is a set time of day and a set amount of
time that you will allow yourself to worry.
By making an appointment with yourself, you can have some
control over when and how much time you spend in worry. If you have a negative thought that creates
worry at any other time during the day or night, you can say “Not now. Wait for the appointment time” and write the
thought down so you can address it at the time of the appointment.
When you feel so out of control with worry that it’s
negatively affecting different areas of your life then allowing worry to be
heard can help to lessen the momentum.
You may even find that by the time you have your worry appointment, you
are already feeling a little better.
The next time you feel out of control with worry and it’s
negatively affecting your life, make a worry appointment and stick to the
amount of time you’ve decided for the appointment. When negative thoughts try to get your
attention before your appointment, write them down but don’t indulge in them
until your scheduled appointment time.
Thankfully there is a way to reduce or even stop worrying
that doesn’t involve medicating yourself with a prescription or buffering with
food and alcohol to get some relief. By understanding
what worry is, why you worry and how to stop it, you can get back to focusing
on reaching those goals, having better relationships and being the best parent
you can be while managing your mind towards a more peaceful life.
- Problem-solving invites answers and solutions to
questions and worrying invites pain and discomfort in addition to more
- While fear may be natural, the future-focused
feeling of worry has been taken to an extreme that wreaks havoc on your ability
to handle your life, your relationships as well as your ability to parent.
- Awfulizing is when you take a situation and spin
out worst case scenarios in your mind assuming that the worst is what’s going
- If you are a 1 – 4 on the worry scale then the
next time you start to awfulize a situation, tap into the problem-solving part
of your brain and ask “What CAN I do in this moment?” Taking charge is always an option.
- If you are a 5 – 7 on the worry scale then the
next time you feel distracted with worry ask yourself “What is true in this
moment?” and only focus on this moment.
It’s the only one that really matters.
- If you are an 8 – 10 on the worry scale then
it’s time to make a worry appointment.
Schedule a time of day and a set amount of time that you will allow
yourself to look at the thoughts creating your feeling of worry.
If you’d like some help with
worry, please feel free to schedule a free mini session or email me at email@example.com and we can get to work together.