“You don’t have to care about everything around you. Some things are best to be left ignored.”
Let’s face it – most of us are guilty of being worriers at some point, and it’s not something to be ashamed of. It’s just part of human nature. The same mental processes that have helped us advance as a species can also drive us insane if not managed wisely.
We’ve all experienced the effects of an overactive mind – when our fears escalate to a point where they take on a life of their own. A simple spark can lead to a forest fire that consumes us with the flames of worry. We play out worst case scenarios in our minds, most of which will never come to pass.
Why is it so hard to control our racing thoughts and thumping heart when we get caught up in this frenzy? It’s because, at the root of our unease, is a fear of losing control. Our fear deludes us into thinking that we can somehow conquer the unknown by entwining it with our thoughts.
Given all the uncertainty and competition that we have to endure, our concerns are certainly justified. We can’t afford to rest on our laurels and stay in denial if we wish to live up to our potential. Engaging in constructive problem-solving allows us to be focused and mindful of our choices.
However, it’s important to know when to draw the line by recognizing when our ruminating has become excessive. You’ll see that you’ve crossed this line if you find yourself micromanaging, and worrying about things that don’t directly impact you, such as natural disasters, political brawls, and what your neighbor thinks of your temporarily unkempt backyard.
As someone who primarily lives inside her head, worrying about the small stuff was my modus operandi. This was intensified by growing up with family members who liked to stir things up. I became accustomed to anticipating the worst. Worrying was the armor I wore to defend myself.
It took me many years to realize that agonizing over trivial matters is a colossal waste of time and energy. It clouds our thinking and strips us of our ability to reason and be pragmatic. We can worry ourselves sick by triggering stress responses, which lead to a rise in cortisol levels. A rise in stress hormones has been proven to negatively affect our physical health in myriad ways.
If nothing else a dismal attitude will ruin the quality of our life. Worrying puts a damper on everything, including all the positive things that happen to us. The good news is that, through awareness, we can break the cycle of obsessive thinking. As the captain of our inner domain, we can regulate our thoughts and release the control that it has on us.
The secret to doing this is, quite simply, knowing what does and doesn’t matter to us. In an age of information overload, with so many demands on our attention, we have to be ruthless in our discernment of what, and who deserves our attention. By consciously attuning our mental focus, we can maintain a state of balance and harmony, and be productive.
Here are three steps that you can take to put a stop to needless worrying:
1. Develop perspective on what does matter to you: To develop perspective on what really matters to you, try connecting with your future self. Where do you see yourself in 5, 10, or 20 years? You don’t have to imagine every detail – a general idea of what you want to be doing within a particular time frame is enough. In taking a long view of your life, your priorities will come into clearer focus. Another fun technique is visualizing Earth from outer space. Imagine that you’re on a spaceship that’s hovering just above our globe. From this vantage point, you’ll be able to see the bigger picture. You’ll realize how insignificant those things that are causing you angst are when you look at it through the lens of the cosmos.
2. Figure out what doesn’t matter: Knowing what should not matter to you is just as important as knowing what should. Many trivial things aren’t worth your attention and you can allow them to fall by the wayside. A couple of things from my list include the opinions of people who don’t matter to me, gossip, and other people’s business that doesn’t involve me. This list, created by author Byron Katie, is a useful guide in sorting out your concerns:
- My business (anything related to me which I have control over).
- Somebody else’s business (anything related to other people which I have very little or no control over).
- Nature’s business (everything related to natural phenomena like weather, natural disasters, universe, planets, diseases which I have zero control over).
Every time you find yourself consumed by worry, try identifying to which category your concern belongs. If it’s something that’s within your control, create a plan of action to deal with it. If it isn’t within your control, you’d be better off letting it go. Nothing beneficial can come from worrying about an outcome you can’t influence.
3. Surrender control: An agitated mental state triggers a chain reaction that affects our body functions such as heart rate, blood chemistry, and organ functions. We can normalize our state by incorporating relaxation practices to calm our nerves and bring us back into balance. There are various tools we can use whenever we find ourselves getting worked up, such as breathing techniques, reciting affirmations, EFT, meditation, and general habits that promote a healthy lifestyle such as exercise, walking, getting sufficient sleep, and a nutritious diet. In addition to a mindfulness approach, we can practice the subtle art of surrendering. Surrender requires that we relinquish our control by accepting that we can’t alter certain realities; and that we have to find ways to work around them without losing our sense of poise and serenity. Sometimes patience is all you need to allow trends to shift in their own due course.
There’s a famous saying by the boxing legend Muhammad Ali: “It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out, it’s the pebble in your shoe.” The pebble in your shoe, in this case, refers to the petty concerns and worries that can slow you down if you don’t get rid of them. Tossing them away will make your ascent to the peak a smoother and far more enjoyable experience.
All my best on your journey,
Reflection Question: Are you prone to worrying about the small stuff? What steps can you take to begin shifting your thoughts?