A Foolproof Strategy to Stop Worry

by Alexandra Levit
excerpt from: “They Don’t Teach Corporate in College

Alexandra is celebrating the 10th anniversary of “They Don’t Teach Corporate in College.” Help her celebrate!

levitOnce upon a time, I spent huge amounts of time worrying about the past and the future. I worried when something bad happened, and I worried that something bad was going to happen. Then, one day, I visited my grandmother in the hospital. After we talked a while about my anxiety, my grandmother told me that I was wasting energy, because most of the things we worry about never come to pass. I decided to do a little experiment. I went home and wrote down all of the things I was worried about. A month later, I looked at the list and laughed.

The worrisome things that had occurred were already just innocuous memories, and most of the other things had never happened. My grandmother was right. I was wrecking my mental and physical health for virtually no reason at all!

You can only control the moment you’re in right now.

Because you can’t change the past and you don’t know what the future holds, what’s the use of worrying about them? As Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote, “Let’s be content to live the only time we can possibly live: from now until bedtime. Anyone can carry his burden, however hard, until nightfall.” You’d be surprised how negative energy diminishes when you focus solely on the moment at hand. After all, doesn’t any problem seem surmountable when you look at it from the vantage point of taking one small step at a time? Now don’t get me wrong: you should absolutely prepare for your future as best you can. But once you’ve done everything possible to increase the likelihood of a positive outcome, let go of your anxiety.

One summer, I worried obsessively about landing an agent to represent my novel. Every day as I drove home during my lunch break to check the mailbox for agent responses, my blood pressure zoomed into the stratosphere. Several weeks later, I finally recognized that my worry was out of control, and I talked about it with my husband, who is a psychologist.

He said that I should consider the worst-case scenario and resign myself to accepting that outcome if necessary. I took his advice and imagined that I couldn’t find an agent, and that my novel would never be published. I then brainstormed ways to improve the situation. This was a hard pill to swallow at first, but I actually felt better once my mind was purged of all the what-ifs. Free from worry, I was able to concentrate rationally on new strategies for obtaining an agent.

Just because you refuse to worry about a problem doesn’t mean you are denying its existence. I’m just suggesting that you skip the part in which you play out a thousand variations of the same drama in your head. As soon as you become aware of a problem, consider the best way to approach the issue rationally. Make a careful decision based on facts, take action and then consider the matter over and done.

There are always going to be bumps in the road, and if you think about it, there’s no end to the things you could worry about. Remember, though, that those who break the habit of worrying live happier, longer lives. From a practical perspective, they’re more productive, because they spend time resolving issues rather than fretting over them. They’re also more pleasant to be around, because they’re not constantly surrounded by a cloud of negativity.

When you consider all of these benefits, why wouldn’t you want to stop worrying?

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