Start the year off right – how to stop worrying so much

Happy New Year!

Ooohhhhh it feels super futuristic writing “2021”. Let’s hope this year is better than last. No matter how your 2020 went, chances are with the pandemic, it just wasn’t your best yet.

But a new year means a new start and even if things are still a bit tough, we have the power to make our personal circumstances just a bit better.

How? By focusing on what we can control, and letting go of the rest.

The hard part is the shifting focus part. Because usually we can identify pretty clearly what is within our control, but isn’t it that nagging worry that plagues us anyway. Especially as parents.

Worry is like that annoying salesperson that follows you around a store desperate to get you to buy their latest product. Except with worry, it’s the worst product in the world and no matter how many times you say no, it just gets stronger and more in your face.
Ugh. Go away!!

So let’s talk about starting this new year off right, not just by focusing on what we can control, but by actively reducing the worry we have as well.

It’s the billion dollar question: How do I, as a parent, worry less and enjoy more?

Here’s what the experts say about worry:

Psychologists say worry is the habit of thinking about the future in a way that is negative, and leaves you feeling anxious.

Worry is a normal part of being a human (there are after all a bunch of things we do genuinely need to be concerned about: Have we paid our bills on time, are we safe, how are our relationships going, will I remember to take the car in for an oil change, can I handle the amount of stuff on my to-do list), however some people experience excessive worry that can lead to things like anxiety disorders.

While worrying is normal, it doesn’t mean that we want to focus on our concerns all the time! Have too much on your to-do list that you genuinely think you may forget your oil change? Fair. But it’s also something that can be easily remedied instead of something that needs to interrupt your thoughts at all hours (especially at night when worry seems to pop up the most).

Why do we worry so much?

When you feel uneasy or overly concerned about something, it’s easy to let your imagination take over. Why are we so good at imagining future events in a catastrophic way? According to Don Goewey, Author of The End of Stress, it is a survival instinct. If we can imagine the worst case scenario, we can plan for it. Humans like to feel in control.

In other words we haven’t yet developed the ability to be in the present moment.

You may have heard the quote from philosopher Michel de Montaigne (from 500 years ago proving that worry has been plaguing us for centuries) that says, “My life has been filled with terrible misfortune, most of which never happened”.  This is just as true today: A Harvard study shows that 85% of what we worry about never happens.

What does worry do to our body?

Not good things, my friends. Not good things. Chronic worry means chronically elevated cortisol (that pesky hormone that is released when we feel stressed). It’s a useful hormone to help us get out of dodge and fast if something is chasing after us, but it’s not meant to be prolonged. Kinda like how our Holiday décor is this amazing visual experience when the time is right, but results in some serious side eye when it’s still up well after the holidays are over.

When cortisol remain high in your body over a period of time you can experience increased likelihood of heart disease, cancer, premature aging, marital problems and family dysfunction, depression, dementia and actual shrinking brain mass.

Yikes, what??

So all this time as we try to plan for our future and stay in control, we are actually making our brains smaller???

What do we do about it?

Sounds like it’s high time to make a shift! As mentioned, since worry is a habit – it means we can un-learn it! The first step is truly to only think about the things you have direct control over.

And even then, put a time limit on how much you think of it. Develop some actionable solutions (even if they aren’t perfect) and put them into place. Then move on. Change your focus, distract yourself. Whatever it takes.

The rest of the thoughts? I know this sounds overly simplistic, but you have no choice but to simply let them go. However you want to do that – by journaling, by meditating, by making a massive bonfire and writing your worries down and burning them…it’s up to you. But a reminder of what chronic worry does to your body and brain may be a decent motivator (and please, don’t add “I’m worried about worrying so much” to your list).

Personally, and I know it may sound silly, what I do is tell myself out loud, “STOP!” And then I say “That is not a true story, it hasn’t happened, and it is currently not happening”.

Sometimes I need a dose of reality. And I find this really works. Plus, it actually re-wires your brain!

So the more you practice non-worry, the more your brain’s neural pathways make that new commitment a habit.