“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” -Mark Twain
Let’s face it, to be human is to worry. Besides worrying about ourselves, there’s an endless list of people and potential events we can worry about. It’s like an open fire hydrant that just goes and goes and goes.
Intellectually, we know that worrying doesn’t help solve anything and causes us tons of harmful stress. But yet, we still do it. Why?
Evolutionary biologists and psychologists suggest we’re still hard wired to fear saber tooth tigers and other apex predators. That wiring doesn’t line up with today’s civilized world and so there’s a mismatch. A gap. To bridge the gap, we invent our own saber tooth tigers.
So, how do we free ourselves from the trap of worrying?
First, like all things we know we shouldn’t do, bring awareness to the problem. When our minds are racing in the middle of the night, just notice the racing. Without judgment. Realize that’s what we’re doing. “Oh yeah, I’m doing that saber tooth tiger thing.” Meditation and yoga are excellent practices to help us notice the racing a little quicker.
To gently nudge us away from the racing, try and focus on our breath. Again, don’t stress if you can barely take one breath in and out without the racing mind coming back. Don’t feel bad about having the thoughts. Just notice them. Jeff Bridges calls them “unavoidable secretions.” I like that.
Then, at some point, we might ask ourselves a couple of questions…Should I be worried about this thing? Now? How certain am I that what I’m worrying about, will happen? How does worrying about this make me feel? How do I want to feel?
If you decide that yes, you want to give time and attention to the thing right now. Then do so. Get out pen and paper and write out your thoughts as well as–and this is key–a bunch of possible action steps you can take. Exhaust yourself with the list.
There’s a good chance with all this work, you’re worrying will have stopped or eased.
If not, remind yourself of Mark Twain’s excellent advice listed above this post.