What Can You Do Instead of Worry?

>> Friday

Noelle came to work worried about her roommate, Jana, who didn’t come home the night before and didn’t call. That wasn’t like Jana, and Noelle was worried.

But Noelle’s worry did not benefit Jana, and it harmed Noelle. Worry put stress hormones into her bloodstream, which isn’t healthy. It suppressed her immune system. If she worries a lot, it will damage the inside of her arteries, which can end in a heart attack or stroke many years hence. Needless worry is a cost without a benefit. And it’s not pleasant.

If you are worrying and want to stop, first ask yourself if there’s anything you’re going to do about the situation. If not, then start wondering what good things might be happening. Do not try to stop worrying.

Research by Daniel Wegner, PhD, of the University of Virginia and author of the book, White Bears and Other Unwanted Thoughts, has repeatedly shown that trying to suppress thoughts only results in thinking the thought more. If you try to suppress a thought hard enough, that thought can become an obsession.

Try to stop worrying and you’ll worry even more. What you want to do is give your mind a bone to chew on, but a different bone. Worrying is imagining something bad happening. Simply imagine something good happening, and there will be less room in your mind for imagining something bad happening. Your mind has its limits, like the RAM of a computer. Give it enough to do, and it won’t have the free space to do anything else.

If worrying is a habit for you, it won’t go away immediately. Every time you start to worry, ask yourself what good might be happening. And keep asking and wondering and then leave it at that—an open-ended possibility. Do this and something good will be happening to you: You’ll feel better and you’ll be healthier.

By the way, Jana had a wonderful time.

This is a chapter from Self-Help Stuff That Works.

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