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How to Worry: Action Conquers Fear

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

Why we worry, what it means... and what to do

You're a worrier, aren't you? Well, to some extent we all are. But you, well you're actually pretty good at it. It catches you when you're not expecting it... and also when you are. It takes the opportunity at 3am to get into your head and won't leave you alone.

How do I know this? Well, I hear it from so many clients... and I too have a tendency to worry. But I've learned how to get better at it, and I'd like to share with you three ideas for doing the same thing for yourself.

The first one is to stop trying not to worry. Ever noticed how doing this just doesn't work? Ever noticed how the worry gets more persistent and insistent the more you try and squash it down? Well, there's a very good reason for that.

Let's take an example. If the cost of living is making a difference to how you live and what you can afford, then burying your head in the sand isn't going to make your troubles go away. Not having enough money is a perfectly good reason to worry, as are relationship difficulties, kids with problems, health challenges and all the other things that get to us. Instead, be grateful for your worry. That's right! I know it sounds daft to welcome something that upsets you in this way, but think of it like this: it means well. It's that part of you that cares for the future, that knows that it's a lie to say that "Things will always just work themselves out." They won't, and pretending they will won't work. If the universe, or God, will look after you, then it/he's not been doing a very good job of it lately, eh? If that approach isn't working, perhaps it's time to try another.

In fact, as difficult as it is, you can learn to love your worry. Now I'm not talking about the life-spoiling constant rumination, the endless "What if...?" loops and the sleepless nights. I said your worry means well: I did not say, and do not believe, that these kind of outcomes are ones we should have to put up with.

So the first action is as simple as that: accept that worry is inevitable, that it means well and that it has a part to play in your life. (Here's a thought: there is no such thing as a negative emotion - not fear, not anger, not lust, not grief. They all have their part to play, and equally every emotion can get out of hand.)

The second thing to do is to tackle your worry head on. Instead of pushing it away, thinking instead about your next holiday or having a drink or another drink, actually take the time to sit down and deal with your worry. For once, rather than running from it, take it seriously and see where it leads. "I'm worried about money." OK, and what's the worst that could happen? "We'll lose our home and we'll have to live on the streets." Good! Now we're getting somewhere. Either that worry is realistic, in which case you need to get into action mode (see the third point, below); or it's out of control and not realistic. Actually learning which of these two you're dealing with is a key step.

Recently I had a client who was worrying about her son, in his early twenties. She was constantly using the "Find my..." feature on her phone to see where he was, and getting herself mightily upset if she didn't know why he was where he was.

I know what you're thinking: that's not a realistic worry. Well, you don't know that. I haven't told you enough about the situation. And that's not the point. The point is, for her, the first step was to be honest with herself and see whether the situation warranted this extraordinary behaviour. (It didn't, actually. But it could have done, if he was intellectually impaired, using drugs or on the run from the police.) Having acknowledged that this worry was disproportionate, she was now in a position to take action. Which, funnily enough, takes me on to my third and, for now, final point...

The third thing. Know this: action conquers fear. Action. Conquers. Fear. If your worries are realistic and proportionate, and you really are in danger of losing your home, for example, then you need to develop an action plan, and fast. Cut all unnecessary spending. Talk to your partner, however difficult it may be, about the situation. Get some help - for example, call the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007 or live chat with them. (National Debt Helpline is a not-for-profit service that helps people tackle their debt problems. They’re not a lender and they don’t ‘sell’ anything or make money from you. Their professional financial counsellors offer a free, independent and confidential service.)

If you're worried about a lump that wasn't there before, see your GP right away. It might be harmless or it may not be. There's two ways to find out, and one of them makes sense.

And so on. Yes, I know help isn't always readily available, and problems can be overwhelming. If that's what you're experiencing, then no 500 word blog with three action points is going to address that. But I continue to be surprised by how many of us do want to hide and bury our heads in the sand. And it never works, not even for ostriches (which is why they don't do it).

And what if your worrying isn't reasonable, and is disproportionate? Well, then the action you need to take is to pick up the phone and call me - free, no commitment - and I can talk to you about what we can do about it together. Or if you prefer, email me.

In either case, believe me when I say this: just knowing that you're doing something about your worrying makes a big difference in itself.

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