Put anxiety in its place

“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” — Mark Twainpositivity, negativity, overcoming anxiety

Sound familiar? I know, I’ve done it, too—spending way too much time worrying about what could go wrong and missing out on what’s happening right now. Worry is good for one thing—encouraging us to prepare. But beyond that, it serves no function.

The more we dwell on the negative, the unhappier we become. The happiest people tend to live in the moment, which, if we’re being realistic, is all we have. We can’t guarantee that tomorrow will come.

I understand the desire to worry relentlessly about things like the presentation you have to give at work next week—but the act of fretting over it does you damage. By envisioning all the things that can go wrong, you’re actually inviting them to happen.

Athletes use visualization techniques to help them play through their most stressful moments—they have seen it and done it in their minds so many times, their bodies mostly act from “memory.”

Similarly, if you obsess over things like forgetting what you’re supposed to say, then they’ll probably happen because your body believes it should react that way.

But what about bigger things we truly can’t control? It turns out worrying about them makes even less sense.

Take layoffs, for example. They’re scary, and they’ve been pretty frequent in this economy over the last few years. What can you do about them? Nothing. Other than prepare as best you can and let go.

Stop and think about the resources you have and how to prepare yourself should it happen. I bet you have a broad network of people who will go to bat for you if you lost your job. You can also keep your resume up-to-date and have some emergency savings tucked away. Taking precautions will give you a leg up, should something go down.

I’ve seen layoffs happen to plenty of friends, and they’re all as well-off, or better off, now than they were before. Sure, they faced some challenges for a while, but they grew from the experience and are happier now.

Whenever life puts challenges in your way, you get to make the choice to see those as opportunities.

If you’re struggling with lingering worries after you’ve finished preparing for a negative outcome as best you can, there are some other things you can do to help free your mind:

  • Talk it out with a friend—but limit yourself. Doing it for too long may turn it into the focus of your energy and reduce your effectiveness at freeing your mind.
  • Distract yourself with something fun, like a movie, a book, or a night out with friends.
  • Think about everything that can go right. Positive talk will be a huge help.
  • Talk to other people who have been through the same thing and find out how positive their experiences turned out to be. They may also have additional tips and tricks for you.
  • Trust yourself—you are smart and capable.

Learning to let go of anxiety over things we can’t control frees us up to enjoy what’s happening to us right now. Don’t ruin today over what probably won’t happen tomorrow.


About Joe Serio

Dr. Joe Serio is a keynote speaker, trainer, and author who helps the people in your organization navigate resistance to change so they can move forward successfully.

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