At one time or another, we’ve all been around worried family or friends. Sometimes it’s awkward and uncomfortable. We don’t know what to say, so we say something fast and easy, like “everything’s going to be okay,” “you’ll be fine,” or even worse, “stop worrying.” It’s as if we think we can change behavior with a smile and a few words of encouragement.
But, face it…words mean nothing. Not when you’re the one without a job and no way to pay the mortgage. Not when you’re the one who is on their third round of chemotherapy. Or it’s your kid who won’t get out of bed because he’s being bullied at school.
Don’t worry? Tell that to the single parent struggling to raise five children. We don’t need words. We need an action plan.
It’s no secret we live in a fragile world. Sometimes, it seems as if we’re just one terrorist cell away from disaster, one bank crisis away from economic collapse, one missing gene away from Alzheimers. In a matter of seconds, tornado’s rip streets apart and earthquakes destroy entire cities. One minute you’re healthy and the next you have breast cancer.
Yes, life changes and surprises. It also breaks hearts and challenges. And, if we let it, it can leave us anxious and in a constant state of worry. And if this sounds like a half-empty glass of water I’m pouring, nothing could be further from the truth. I still believe we have a choice…a choice that has the power to transform our lives.
We can throw sheets over our heads and let worry destroy us, or we can find a way to flip worry on its head and turn it into a philosophy that allows us to begin enjoying the lives we were meant to live.
Here are 6 ways to embrace the Art of a Worry-Free Life:
- Step 1: Accept That Worry Doesn't Help
“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” - Mark Twain
I wouldn’t object to worrying if it was more practical in improving our lives. But, the fact is, worrying won’t pay the rent or stop an aneurism from exploding in our brain. And I’ve never seen a hurricane that could be stopped by a few hours of nail biting.
Worrying does nothing to help us deal with what we’re anxious about. It doesn’t make us more creative, smarter, engaging, or productive. Go ahead, worry 24 hours a day, 52 weeks a year…and see for yourself if one second of that worrying does anything to make your life better. And while seeing through this illusion of worry won’t immediately put you into a Zen-like state of bliss, it will hopefully give you more energy, while freeing up your mind long enough to see practical solutions to your problems. It will hopefully lead you to action.
- Step 2: Stay In The Moment
“Today is the tomorrow we worried about yesterday.” - Author Unknown
The problem with worry is that it exists almost entirely in the past and the future.
We spend so much time and energy worrying about what has already happened, or what we think might happen in the future, that we have no time for today. This not only keeps our worries spinning alive, but weakens us, kills our spirit, and robs us of joy.
Staying in the moment —living in the now— is at the heart of any worry free program. Volumes have been written on the subject and, to be honest, you could spend a lifetime mastering it. Here is what you can do right now to get started:
- Engage in activities that keep you in the moment. Deep breathing exercises work, as will yoga, meditation, gardening, reading, running, swimming; a walk in the woods, a bike ride at the beach. Nature helps, so does humor, volunteering, and doing virtually anything you’re passionate about.
- Surround yourself with people who live in present moment awareness. Children are good for this, so are older people, outdoor types, athletes and creatives. With a little effort, you’ll find your own role models. Spend enough time with them and it’ll rub off. Note to your new self: At first these people might get on your nerves. That’s your worried, uncomfortable self cringing at the idea of letting go. Stay with it.
- Step 3: Stop Looking For Bad Things To Worry About
“He that seeks trouble always finds it.” - English Proverb
Turn off the news, switch off talk radio, stop reading newspapers, and avoid all conversations with people who only want to talk about how screwed up the world is. You know who they are.
The more you think, talk, or obsess about something, the faster you’ll bring more of it into your life. After all, it’s hard enough to stop worrying about your own problems, let alone have to take on those of the world. Don’t pile on more.
- Step 4: Start Looking For Good Things to Be Happy About
“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not,
but rejoices for those which he has." - Epictetus
It’s a law of the universe that two objects can’t occupy the same place at the same time. This applies to our thoughts as well. It’s not enough to want to rid ourselves of worried thoughts, we need to replace those worries with something positive to think about. In other words, stop focusing on the approaching hurricane and start thinking about the family you’re huddled around with in the basement.
Worry isn’t going to go away easily. We have to fight it with everything we have. And what we have are our children, our spouses and loved ones, sunsets and stars, oceans and mountains; our beating hearts and strong minds; our endless capacity to love, laugh and find joy. It’s called gratitude…and it works.
- Step 5: Be Prepared, Then Let Go
“Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.” - Herman Hesse
Living a worry-free life doesn’t mean we should pretend our world isn’t filled with challenges. We need to be ready for what comes. And nothing combats worry more than action.
So, wear sunscreen, pay off credit cards, eat more greens, learn fractions, and when that hurricane approaches, board up the windows, stock up on supplies and head to the basement. What we can’t do is tell the hurricane to make a u-turn when it comes to our street. That’s the point we need to let go. It’s called surrender, trust, or the simple knowing that there is something larger than ourselves and the problems we face. All of which leads to our 6th and most important step.
- Step 6: Use Worry To Find Meaning In Life
“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” - Khalil Gibran
While the previous five steps will take us far in alleviating worry, to achieve lasting relief, we need a shift in perception. We need to re-interpret our worries in light of what they have to teach us. Granted, not everyone will want to do this.
It isn’t easy asking someone to look beyond his or her struggles in search of a greater truth. It’s like asking someone to see the rainbow when they’re stuck in the middle of a storm —easy advice to give, not so easy to take.
Yet, it is the exact step that will bring us peace.
The key is to cultivate this spirit of living before the storm hits. It’s no secret that we all have our stories, our own scars. You have yours. I have mine. They may take different shapes, or arrive at different times in our lives, but nobody is immune from pain, sorrow and challenge. It is only how we write the endings to our stories that are different — how we will each work through, and then learn from our experiences.
And, of course, the best stories —the ones we all remember— are the ones where we come out of a crisis as a different person. The stories where we not only endure, but emerge stronger, happier, and wiser.
It is the hero’s journey. Your journey…and mine.
It is a journey where worry evolves into action, insight, then reinvention; where worry transforms into hope and promise. But, this journey takes choice. A decision has to be made.
What will we do with worry as it creeps into our lives each day? Will we cry foul, play victim, and point fingers? Will we give in and let worry continue to rule our lives? Or will we take action and engage life? Will we reject negativity, seek stillness and embrace gratitude, searching out people who will nourish and make us stronger? Will we choose to meet our worries head on, with the knowingness that our challenges, however difficult they may be, contain the seeds to bring more purpose and meaning into our lives than we could have ever imagined?
Make the right choice —the heroic choice.