Start Worrying: How to Harness Anxious Thoughts to Better Your Life

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I know, it’s an audacious title; something that probaby promises more than it can deliver. But I’ve discovered something that really works. It’s doesn’t come out of wisdom or research or knowledge. I honestly stumbled upon the idea out of pure luck. It’s simple. It works. And I’ll keep the writing here simple as well.

The basic premise is that we aren’t all mad; that we aren’t all completely out of our minds. I think most of you agree with that. So then the question is why do we worry so damn much? We’re fraying our nerves; our spines, our guts and our stomachs are all eating themselves alive. Why?

Sure, I don’t doubt that the pace of our lives and our media consumption has a lot to do with it. I’ve noticed improvement in my own stress levels from reducing my input. But at the heart of every anxiety; every ball of stress, is a worry. We abuse ourselves with repetitive worries cycling through our brains.

Some doctors give us pills to chill out. Other’s say we need to learn to let go. But I think there’s something more there. I’m not a doctor and I wouldn’t claim to know better than them, but what I do know is that every worry is rooted in something specific.

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There’s always something down at the core of everything over which we starve ourselves or pull out of hair for. And we often take so little time for self contemplation that we are unable to identify what the true situation at hand actually is. Instead we juggle chainsaws, somehow convincing ourselves that by stressing out over something, we are making it better. But worry is not solution. We all know that. In the words of Van Wilder:

“Worrying is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.”

Ok, so let’s get to the meat already. Right? What am I really talking about? Why should we start worrying? And what good can come from that?

Our first problem is that we allow worry to invades our lives. It pops up where and whenever it wants, shitting on whatever it come into contact with. And the only remedy we are offered is to let it go; to ignore it; to push it out. But that doesn’t work very well does it? And if doesn’t work well then we have to wonder if maybe we’re thinking of it all wrong.

What if I told you to go ahead and worry, to go ahead and freak out all that you want? You’d proababy say that I’m nuts or and idiot, but that’s exactly what I’m suggesting you to do. Worry, worry, worry — but only for 30 minutes every day.

I want you to schedule a thirty minute window every day for worrying. I’m not being metaphorical. Put aside thirty minutes of every day and label that as your worry time.

First of all, as crazy as it sounds, there’s something freeing about the idea isn’t there. By allowing it a place in our lives we no longer have to carry the shame, guilt and yes, the worry that we have over the habit of worrying itself.

Second of all, what’s important to know about this thirty minutes is that it is the only time during the day that you are allowed to worry. What this means is that when a worry pops into your head during the rest of the day, rather than fighting it, you reschedule it. If you have to, talk out loud. “Sorry worry, it’s not you’re time. We will talk tonight.” And then write down that worry for reference later and move on.

And that’s it.

Just kidding. That isn’t even the important part. We still have to deal with the real clickbaity part of my title: “Harness Anxious Thoughts to Better Your Life.” So, how do we do that?

Well, that’s where your thirty minutes come in. This is what you actually do during these thirty minutes.

List out every single worry that you can think of that is on your mind — big, small, logical, crazy — all of them. The first day will probably be the longest (but who knows.) You’ll proabably run out of steam pretty fast, but I encourage you to push past this and to really dig. Go until you literally can’t think of any more worries. Find the true limit.

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Why are we writing them down? You guessed it, because we are gonna look at each of them and do some thinking. The first question you are gonna ask as you look at each worry is: “What’s the worst possible thing that can happen?”

I’ll share with you one of my own personal stresses. On day one, I wrote down “I worry about my heart health.” I smoked cigarettes for 18 years, I ate a poor diet, I never exercised and I’m twenty pounds overweight. Though I have no signs of heart disease yet, it’s a real worry. And when my anxiety takes over and throws me into a panic attack, the first thing I think is that I’m having a heart attack. So I guess, as blunt as it is, my worse case scenario is that I actually will die. Damn. That’s not very uplifting or healthy is it? Luckily, this question is only the first of two.

The next question I want you to ask is: “What can I actually do about it?” And this is the hardest step out of everything that I’ve written here. It requires you to really understand what you’re worry is actually telling you. After all that’s the whole point of this article, that we aren’t insane; that the reason we worry is because we are trying to tell ourselves something. A worry is like an alarm. We don’t want to just turn them off. We want to find out what set them off.

In my case, I found four actionable steps. Actionable steps are spefic actions that you can take. Tangible things. For example, I’m worried about my heart, so I need to:

  • Change my diet

  • Exercise

  • Lose weight

  • Go see a cardiologist for a heart check up

Every one of these is something that I can put into action immediately. And that’s our goal here. As best as you can, try to find true actionable steps, things that you can put into a todo app, schedule and complete. This is where you begin to improve your life.

As we allot time to listen to and understand our worries, we begin to make progress. From one worry I was able to see the need to make three changes to improve my health. And the apointment with the cardiologist will give me some understanding of where I actually stand with my heart health. If my heart is healthy then I have information to battle my next panic attack (though hopefully there isn’t a next one), and if it isn’t in tip-top condition then I have more motivation for my diet and exercise changes.

Now to be clear, there may not always be a cut-and-dry action steps from every worry. Sometimes the action step in just acknowledging something and accepting it. “I worry that I will die one day.” Yup. You will. You can’t prevent it, so maybe your action steps are “accept the inevitability of death” & “find joy and happiness in every day.”

But…personally, I wouldn’t even be happy with those steps. I’d want to dig deeper. What scares me about death specifically? How can I come to terms with that? What steps can I take to find joy? and happiness?

Basically what I’m saying here is that the deeper you dig to find specific actions that you can take, the more benefit your worries will bring into your life. It’s all up to you. If you give yourself fully to this practice you will continually surprise yourself. You will discover worries that you weren’t consciously aware of. You will find needs that you weren’t meeting. You will find things you’ve been wanting to do, suddenly getting done. And after time you’ll discover that your worry list gets shorter every day, because worries don’t return unless they still have something to say. If you take your steps then they eventually go away.

Chad Hall