We have all been there; we have all experienced it. Those sleepless nights of tossing and turning in bed, anxiously wondering how we are going to manage all of our responsibilities for work, our family, AND our own self-care. The next thing you know, its morning and all of those same responsibilities are still there, only now also with a throbbing headache and a stomach that’s tied up in knots. Sound familiar?
Why do we worry in this way, and what can we do about it? It is only from first understanding the feeling and where it arises from that we can then learn to take the actions to create change for ourselves. Worry begins with a single thought. That single thought triggers another thought, which then leads to a cascade of more thoughts, memories, projections, and feelings. This all happens in a split second. For example:
Initial, single thought: I have a project at work that is due at the end of this week.
Subsequent thoughts: This is a really big, important project. My boss is going to kill me if I don’t get it right. What if I don’t finish it in time? I don’t want to lose this job; I need this job! I also have my daughter’s dance recital and son’s soccer game this week. I can’t miss those; I have to be there for my kids. When am I going to find time to work on the project? I guess that means another week of eating fast food, staying up late, and not exercising; I feel so gross when I eat fast food and don’t exercise, but I don’t know what else to do! I can never seem to stick to my diet and exercise program; how am I ever going to lose weight?
This is the natural tendency of our “monkey minds;” to jump from one thought to another. Starting from the single thought of “project due at work,” I am now also thinking about my children’s activities, and my eating habits. My heart is beating faster. My breath is quick and shallow. Fear is arising in me and these fears are leading to worry.
Webster’s dictionary defines worry as “To feel or show fear and concern because you think that something bad has happened or could happen.” Isn’t it interesting that so much of what we worry about has not occurred and may not even occur? Instead, why not focus on what is actually occurring at this very present moment? I offer the following few steps as a method for putting the worry to rest, and returning to the present moment:
1. Recognize. Learn to recognize when the mind is starting go down the path of worry.
2. Pause. Take a detour from the path of worry by allowing yourself to pause. Perhaps say to yourself, “These thoughts are causing worry to arise in my mind. My peace of mind is precious, so I will let go of these thoughts for now. If it is important for me to think about these things, then they will arise again at a later time. For now, it is okay for me to let them go.” Then, take three long breaths, slowly counting to 4 with each inhale and each exhale.
3. Consider. With conscious awareness and a mindful presence, consider what the original, single thought was; try to decipher this thought from all of the other thoughts that arose from it. Is there something that can be done about that initial thought? Is it “fixable?” If so, what steps can be done? If nothing can be done, then consider what you gain by worrying? His Holiness the Dalai Lama has given us wonderful advice on this topic: “If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.”
4. Lastly, if none of that works or you just need a quick fix, then watch this video or download this song to your ipod. We don’t have many shortcuts in life, but I personally consider this to be one of them! :-)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-diB65scQU (Don’t Worry, Be Happy. Bobbi McFerrin)
May you find the peace that is always resting within your heart.