How To Let Go Of Worry

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Are you someone who finds yourself worrying far too often? If so, don’t feel bad, you’re in the company of millions of people who get caught up in worrying about various aspects of their lives, often excessively.

Why is it so many people find themselves worrying? The answer lies in the illusion worry creates which is like a wolf in sheep’s clothing – I’ll explain more on that in a moment.

But first, let me give you just a little information on worry and how it differentiates from anxiety. Often anxiety and worry are used interchangeably, but there are some significant differences between them that not many people understand. Doing so will put you in a much better position to let go of worry, rather than being trapped by it.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a normal, healthy emotion that serves an evolutionary purpose; even animals experience anxiety. For example, if a squirrel was not at all anxious about winter, would he go collect nuts? If you were not at all anxious about tests you had in school, how much would you have studied? If you haven’t already guessed it, the evolutionary purpose of anxiety is to prompt us to take action to prepare for something in the future. A healthy amount of anxiety, when the situation warrants it, actually plays an essential role in our lives.

How does worry differ from anxiety?

Unlike anxiety, which serves a constructive evolutionary purpose, worry does not. Worry is not a normal healthy emotion; instead, it’s an avoidance strategy that the human mind has devised to give us the illusion we have control over a situation we have little to no control over. Worrying tries to help us avoid feelings of helplessness and powerlessness by making it seem like we’re doing something in important situations when, in reality, there’s little to nothing we can do to help ensure the outcome for which we are hoping.

Is it anxiety or worry?

A key question to ask yourself to determine whether you’re experiencing normal, healthy anxiety or obsessive worry is: “Are the thoughts going through your mind prompting you to take some constructive action that would help ensure the outcome you’re seeking, or is there really nothing else you could do at this point to impact the situation.”

Let me share an example I often use to help differentiate anxiety from worry. Imagine I had a client in my office who’s anxious about taking the SAT’s in a week. The anxiety she was experiencing might likely prompt her to take another practice test or two to help her prepare. In this situation, she would still be in the range of normal, healthy anxiety because the anxiety prompted her to take an action that might increase the likelihood of the outcome she wanted (a higher SAT score). But then let’s say she was in my office a few hours after taking the SATs and her mind was caught up in reviewing the test over and over in her mind with thoughts like: “What if I answered that one wrong; what if they don’t like my essay, what if…” At that point in time, she would have fallen into worry’s trap because no matter how many times her mind reviewed the test after she handed it in, there’s nothing she could do at that point to increase her SAT scores.

Also, another hint to differentiate anxiety from worry is to look for the phrase “What if…” which is worry’s favorite phrase. The conditional tense which the phrase “What if…” implies, is a sure sign your mind is creating hypotheticals. When your mind is caught spinning in hypotheticals, very rarely is there any constructive action to take to increase the likelihood of the outcome you would like.

Learning to Let Go

When you find yourself caught up worrying, try the following strategy:

  • take out a piece of paper and write down all the factors you can think of that are involved in a particular situation
  • for each factor, answer as honestly as possible as to whether that factor is actually in your control or not
  • if it’s in your control, ask yourself if there is anything else you can do to impact that factor as positively as possible
  • if that factor is not in your control, then let go of it and hand it over to the Universe or whatever High Power you may believe in

Don’t let worry trap you into getting caught in an obsessive cycle that only exhausts you physically and psychologically without increasing the amount of control you have in a situation. Remember, by letting go of worry, you’re not letting go of any actual control you have in a situation, you’re merely letting go of the illusion of control – prudently saving your energy for those moments when constructive action is needed.

I’ve seen too many times when worry has robbed people of the present moments of their lives. I hope this article begins to help you understand how to free yourself from worry and subsequently bring more joy and peace into your life.

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