Worrying Less in 5 Steps
About the Author: Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist, author and speaker who synthesizes the pearls of traditional psychotherapy with a progressive integration of mindfulness to achieve mental and emotional healing.
We’ve all heard the saying that in life there are ups and down and there is the classic eastern saying that life is filled with 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows. With this there’s the wisdom that all things come and go, but the brain has a funny way of amplifying the sorrows and minimizing the joys for good evolutionary reasons.
Whenever the brain perceived something as “bad” it starts to worry about it. But often times there is no real utility to the worry, it only serves to dig us into a deeper hole and blinds us to the joys that might be waiting around the corner.
Here is one of the best cartoons I’ve found that says it like it is:
There really is no way to cure worrying, but we can learn to get better and better at recognizing it and gently guiding ourselves back to a sense of perspective and what matters.
1. Soften your understanding of worry
The utility of worry is to try and anticipate and avoid any potential dangers and to keep us safe. It’s the brain trying to protect us and so worrying certainly has its place and time. But often times worrying only serves to ramp up our nervous system and kick us into an imbalanced place that only leads to more worrying. The brain has good intentions, but it leads us down a destructive vicious cycle.
2. Allow/Accept the feeling
Worrying usually arouses the feeling of fear or anxiety. In this mindful step, we’re simply acknowledging that this feeling is here. Calling it out. We want to do the opposite of resist it, because what we resists persists. So instead we practice allowing it to be as it is. Here you are just saying to yourself, “allowing, allowing, allowing.”
3. Feel into it with kindness
Now we have the opportunity to deepen our awareness and investigate the feeling. Here you may choose to put your hand on your heart or wherever you feel the sensation in your body. This is one way of signaling to the brain a sense of love or kindness to the feeling which may shift it all by itself. The brain also has to map the sensation of the touch with is inversely correlated with mental rumination, turning the volume down on negative thinking.
1. As you feel into it you might ask, “What does this feeling believe?” Does it believe you are unlovable, unworthy, or perhaps that if you allow it to be, it will consume you?
2. Ask the question, what does this feeling need right now? Does it need to feel cared for, to feel secure, to feel a sense of belonging?
3. Whatever the answer, see if you can plant these as seeds in yourself. For example you can plant the seeds of intention saying, “May I feel safe and secure, may I be free from this fear, may I feel a sense of belonging.”Make this personal to whatever your needs are.
4. Expand awareness and wishes to all people
Whatever the worrying is about, it’s important you know you’re not alone. Feeling vulnerable is part of the human condition and millions of people struggle with the same source of vulnerability that you experience. But when we’re feeling vulnerable with anxiety it often times is all about us, we need to also impersonalize the experience and get outside of ourselves.
You can do this by imagining all the other people who struggle worrying and wish them all the same intentions that you just wished yourself.
For example, May we all feel a sense of safety and security, May we all be free from the fear that keeps us stick in a perpetual cycle of worry, May we all feel that sense of belonging, etc…
5. Repeat steps one through four over several thousand times.
If you notice, steps one through four spell the acronym SAFE so you can easily remember what it is and what it’s for. As you intentionally practice this over and again, in time you will notice that you start to become less reactive to the worried mind, more compassionate with yourself as it arises, and even have perspective that this worrying is part of the human condition and you are not alone.
We we were able to turn the volume down on worrying in our lives, what would be there instead? For many people, it’s a sense of spaciousness, ease and joy.