I know very few people who don’t have to deal with worry. The Dalai Lama has a simple approach. “If a problem is fixable, and you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.” I like it! it’s easy to say… a little harder to do.
Whether it’s relationships, finances, health issues or the complex times we live in, worry can be a constant companion. Here are a few strategies that definitely can take the edge off.
A new study published in the Journal of Mindfulness gave two groups two different practices to deal with worry: mindfulness meditation or a practice called savoring the joy. Here’s what happened:
1. Mindfulness Meditation: accepting how you feel
The first group, those people who learned mindfulness meditation, were taught to bring their attention to their breath and how it felt in their body. When their mind wandered, as it inevitably does, they were instructed to gently bring their attention back to their breathing. Instead of resisting the thoughts, or judging them, the idea was to just accept how you feel right now. Worry comes and worry goes. It really helps to see those worry thoughts as temporary mental events rather than the core essence of who you are.
By always bringing their attention back to their breath, this served as way to refocus on the present moment. The conclusion of this study was that if you tend to ruminate on specific thoughts and feelings, then mindfulness meditation is an excellent strategy.
2. Savoring Joy: when joy replaces worry
The second group was focused on savoring joy. As in the mindfulness group, they were first guided through deep breathing. Then, they were instructed to focus on the enjoyable, and meaningful aspects of what they were asked to do. Their first assignment was folding clean towels, and experiencing the fresh smell and how soft they felt. On another occasion, they were asked to make greeting cards for hospitalized children, enjoying the expression of creativity, the smell of the scented markers and the idea that what they were doing had value — it would be helping others (the feel-good benefits of altruism).
Conclusion: while both strategies help bring participants into the present moment, and to see worry thoughts as temporary mental events rather than a permanent identity, the study suggests that if your goal is more positive feelings, then trying to “savor the joy” may be more effective.
3. Worst Case Scenario
This approach challenges you to imagine the worst thing that could happen and really think through what actions you might take to deal with that dreaded situation. The power of this technique is in bringing to light some of the worries that lurk in the shadows of your mind.
- Step 1 is to clearly define in writing the problem or situation you are worrying about. It could be anything from: lose my job, relationship, illness, stay stuck forever…
- Step 2 is to write out the worst possible outcome of the worry situation. This relieves you from the sense of paralysis that worry can impose.
- Step 3 is to resolve to accept the worst possible outcome, should it occur. Just say to yourself, “Well, if it happens this way, I’ll learn to live with it. I’ve dealt with hard things before and whatever happens I will find a way to cope with it.” You have dealt with difficult things before and you can do it again.
- Step 4 is to begin immediately to improve upon the worst case scenario. You’ve accepted that whatever comes up; you’ll deal with it. Now, think of the actual choices you may have should the worst thing actually occur. That gets your imagination going: ”Well I can reach out to this person, I can make adjustments this way…” This ignites your creativity and your resourcefulness.
Finally ask yourself “What is one small step I can take right now to start improving this situation I am in?” Notice how good that makes you feel. Action is often an antidote to worry. Gratitude is too, but that’s a whole topic unto itself!
Here’s an extra strategy ( I couldn’t resist) which is so simple that you may already be doing it. Movement in our bodies helps shift what’s going on in our minds. It could be as easy as taking a walk, knitting, going for a run, dancing… When you add your favorite music, you can often change your state more quickly than you may have imagined.
What are some ways that help you deal with worry? More science-based strategies at projecthappiness.org.
Originally published at medium.com