I thought I was finished with my “Letting Go of various emotions” series, but my husband gently reminded me recently that maybe I need to worry less. After resisting my automatic response of  “Well, I have to worry for both of us.” I realized that there was some truth in his comment.

The incident that prompted this exchange was that on a recent long, arduous hike in the Canadian Rockies, near the end I said something like, “I wonder if I’m going to need knee or ankle replacement surgery.” Although I wasn’t ready to call the doctor, I suppose I was super sensitive since I was still recuperating from my broken arm surgery. My legs started to feel more normal once we got back on level ground, but his comment stuck with me. Yes, I do worry more than he does and probably more than is good for me. This started me thinking about how I deal with worries and how to let go of unnecessary ones.

Upon some personal reflection and listening to some podcasts on dealing with emotional stress, I realized that there are two basic kinds of worry:

1. PRODUCTIVE WORRY. These are the worries that I might be able to do something about. Thus, worry can motivate taking an action that is preventive or a solution. Response: ACT.

  • If I’m worried about a health issue, I can read up on it, consult my doctor, take a medication, etc.
  • If it’s a world problem like poverty, war, racism, I can join an organization that works on this issue. I can become politically active.
  • If it’s a serious worry about one of my kids, I can talk to them about it, although this gets dicey with adult children.
  • I can sleep on it. Sometimes a resolution will evolve by morning – or at least it doesn’t feel so urgent.

2. NON-PRODUCTIVE WORRY. These are the worries that I can’t do anything about like the dark, being in a plane crash, people not liking me, dying… often the kind of things that keep you awake at night. Response: LET IT GO. But how? The following are strategies that usually work for me:

  • Prayer or Meditation. If I can’t physically do something to fix the worry, taking it to prayer, turning it over to a higher power, then putting it out of mind helps. Of course focusing on the worry, even in prayer, can be the opposite of letting it go, so it’s helpful to find something else to focus on. So…
  • Substitution. Focusing on another thought or practice like my breathing or body in general helps me. Others find a soothing practice like yoga or an active practice like running helps. Although I’m not usually a fan of repetitive prayers, if I can’t sleep at night, saying the rosary works for me.
  • Put it in Perspective. If my mind is too consumed with the worry for substitution to work, I can sometimes talk myself out of non-productive worry by reminding myself that things could be worse. When I’ve had a car accident, I remember that I wasn’t hurt. When I broke my arm, I remembered that I live in a country with ER rooms, orthopedic surgeons, and I have health insurance. When I do something really stupid and think people will laugh at me, I tell myself that in time this will be an interesting story to tell and after all it was just a stupid mistake not a mean spirited one. This isn’t the end of the world.
  • Focus on Gratitude. Calling to consciousness those many people and things that surround me that are good combines both substitution and perspective. My sanity prayer is:
    * I am alive,. (breathe deeply) but I will not always be.
    * I am loved, therefore, I don’t have to prove myself to others. It’s not all about me.
    * Who are the others that need my love today? Focus on who I can be present to today.

What helps you tame your worries? Please share in the comment section below.