The day that I decided to quit my last job and the day that I handed in my notice were almost 90 days apart. In those three months, I worried — a lot. I decided to pursue my desire to become a full-time writer. But shit was getting scary.
Things like “what if I can’t pay my bills?” and “what if I fail?” went through my head. I freaked out, but as it turned out, the solution to my excessive worries was easier than I expected.
Many of us worry about all kinds of things: Work, relationships, money, health. Some concerns are real, but many are unnecessary.
No matter what kind of worry you have, the response in your body is always the same: It increases your cortisol levels.
And an increased cortisol level is something you definitely do not want. Cortisol compromises your immune system. As a result, you will become more susceptible to disease.
Researchers have also found a relationship between cortisol and diabetes, osteoporosis, and heart disease. Also, stress and fear can cause depression, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, and burn-out.
Let’s face it: If you don’t stop worrying, you will die. That’s not me talking. That’s your body talking.
In the past year and a half, I’ve studied worry, stress, fear and anxiety almost every day. I even wrote a book about how you can live a stress-free life. My findings? Don’t try to relieve stress and worry, but eradicate it. Address it — head on.
“Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Relief Doesn’t Work
This is what most people do when they experience stress and worry:
- Take it out on your partner of family
- Drink alcohol, take drugs, or both
- Binge-watch Netflix
- Play video games
- Go on a holiday
- Party all night
- Have sex
Be honest, how long do these things make you forget about your worries? 10 minutes, half hour, a day? It doesn’t last. As soon as you get back to the reality of your life — worry and stress smack you in the face.
Distracting yourself from your life doesn’t work — and yet, many of us keep doing it. I’ve read many books and scientific papers on this behavior. Some say it’s because we have too much free time, some say it’s because of culture, some say it’s because how we are wired.
To be frank, it’s not important to understand the why. We just have to look at the facts: People worry too much, and that can destroy your life. It’s more important to focus your attention on addressing worry.
“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.” ― Marcus Aurelius
Turn Worry Into Constructive Process
Worry is often about the future. It goes something like this: What if…
“She doesn’t like me anymore?”
“I lose my job?”
“I can’t pay my bills?”
“I fail this exam?”
“I don’t get this promotion?”
“My business doesn’t take off.”
And then we make up consequences. It goes something like this: I have to…
“Find a new job.”
“Borrow money from my parents.”
“Quit school because I failed.”
“Stay at this job another year.”
“Be ashamed because everyone thinks I’m a failure.”
Then we think: “I can’t handle that.” And finally, we think: “The world is going to end.”
If your thought process is the way described above, worry controls you.
The good news is there is a simple solution: Self-monitoring, which turns worry into a constructive process. In a 2002 study, done by Szabo & Lovibond, students were asked to record their worries.
The results of that study demonstrated that you can turn worrying into a constructive process by focusing on finding a solution to your concerns.
“You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.” — Albert Einstein
How I Use Self-monitoring To Address Worry
I’m a pragmatic person. I do think that things like meditation and mindfulness help with worry — but not for me. It’s too intangible. Instead, I prefer to take a practical approach like self-monitoring. Here’s how I do it.
- Use a note-taking app and create a new note.
I call my note “Things that I worry about.”
- List everything you worry about — and keep adding things to the list.
Everything that you worry about goes on this list, no matter how small.
- Think of a solution for all your perceived problems.
For example, if your financial situation makes you anxious, you need to create a plan to earn more or spend less.
- Then, start executing.
Do one thing every day that brings you closer to solving your perceived problem.
- Finally, don’t worry about things you have zero control over — those things you have to accept.
If you know more about how you can do this; read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.
This process focuses on action. It forces you to learn the skills you need to overcome your perceived problems. Because problems don’t disappear out of themselves.
Because knowledge, skills and character are the only things that no one can take from you—every minute you spend on learning something is well spent.
No matter what happens, trust in your ability to address it. So start now.