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Slow the spinning: How to stop worrying (and start living)

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Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength. Corrie Ten-Boom

Have you ever woken in the middle of the night, unable to go back to sleep because your mind was spinning with worries and possible scenarios of how a problem might play out? 

So many of us toss and turn over situations we cannot control and sometimes even those we can. But the trouble with worry is it causes a lot of commotion but leaves us in the same place, mulling over the same thoughts. 

Like a roller coaster, you are strapped in, buckled up and trapped by worry. It’s fast paced and intense but ultimately you don’t go anywhere! In fact, you end up back in the same spot you started in, only to begin the ride again. 

Worry leaves our heads spinning. Our equilibrium is lost as our minds spiral out of control. 

There is no advance, no forward momentum from worry. You are moving fast but you are on a treadmill. You are suffering because the immense exertion of your emotional energy is being spent but for no real reason.  

All you do when you worry constantly is tire your cognitive muscles, to the point you no longer have enough energy to take the necessary steps to solve your dilemma. 

And what’s more, the things you worry about usually turn out ok. How many nights have you spent panicking about something, only for things to end up being completely fine?

I’d like to share with you five ‘solutions to worry’ which will help you escape the mental tension treadmill. 

As a side note, do not confuse concern with worry. Concern for our environment and those we love is a different emotion to worry. A worried person’s mind is spinning with negative or ruinous thoughts, whereas a concerned person’s thoughts are either neutral or focused on solutions.   

How to stop worrying and start living

1. Keep calm and carry on

Calmness is the antidote to worry. 

But how do we keep calm? 

In 1939, the British government was preparing for war with Germany and created a series of propaganda posters for the British people. One of the posters featured just five words and a Tudor crown. 

The five words: Keep Calm and Carry On

These five words have become ubiquitous in our culture today, despite it being first used so many years ago. Yet they still convey reassurance. 

Yes, the saying has become trivialised, mocked and a source of untold memes. I dare say because of its potential power if taken to heart.  But in its original form, it still inspires confidence and grit. 

Josiah Gilbert Holland once said, “Calmness is the cradle of power”. Finding this place of calmness enables us to draw on the inner strength we have to deal with any perplexity within our control and let go of those things out of our control. 

So take a deep breath and remind yourself that being calm is one of the best things you can do when you’re worried. 

2. Mindfulness 

For so many of us, worry has become a mental habit. Every time a problem arises, our default setting is set to rumination and imaging the worst-case scenario. 

By practicing the habits of worry, we live in a state of anxiety. Dwelling on a problem over and over in your mind is literally the definition of worry. It’s the movie that plays in your mind on repeat. And it’s a bad movie because one person is writing everyone’s lines. 

The absence of problems does not create a life free from worry. Problems should actually help you clarify your priorities. 

Problems should make you present. They should cause you to zero in on the now and find effective solutions. They should allow you to centre yourself, compose your reflexes and focus on the most actionable countermeasure. 

To stop worrying and start living, don’t allow your everyday moments to be stolen because of worries about tomorrow. The everyday ordinary moments are what life is about. 

Practice the habit of interrogating your thoughts. Ask the questions, “Where did this thought come from?”, “Why is it here?”.  

You can be mindful of their existence but don’t allow worrying thoughts to hijack your emotions and take over the house of your mind.  

3. Go back and find your peace

If you left your smart phone at a friend’s house, would you drive back and get it? What if your friend lived an hour away? What about 3 hours away? 

Most of us probably would. But what if you left your sense of peace at someone’s house… would you drive back to get that? 

Many people have misplaced their peace so long ago they forgot where they left it! 

What are the things that bring you peace? Is it simplicity? Quiet? The ocean breeze or the smell of food cooking in the oven? Reignite peace in your life by finding its source. 

One of the antidotes to worry is living a life of peace. But many of us cannot find peace because our life is in pieces. (One of the ways our life cascades into pieces is when you have 11 different Instagram accounts, but your parents only think you have one. Ouch!) 

When you try to be all these different things to all these different people, your life gets dissected into pieces. The literal definition of integrity is the state of being whole and undivided. Being whole is being one person all the time. Not discombobulated but whole together and in a place where you can progress because of the depth of your character. 

Sometimes we worry because we are focused on too many things at once. Decide what brings you peace and make this a priority as a way of clearing the worry clutter from your brain.

4. Get your head in the game

Worry mostly emanates from experiencing fear and allowing our hearts to be troubled. 

We worry about the economy, the environment or that our girlfriend/boyfriend will leave us. Maybe your whole life is built on worry, and you don’t even know what you would do with your life if you didn’t spend half your time worrying. 

This is a time when you need to seize your thoughts. If you don’t take hold of your thoughts, they will take a hold of you and drag you to dark places. I am not implying you will not have negative thoughts, just don’t allow them to take hold. 

You cannot stop the birds from soaring in the sky, but you can stop them from making a nest on your head. You cannot stop the negative thoughts from circling above your head, but you can stop them from taking hold. 

“If you can solve your problem, then what is the need of worrying? If you
can’t solve it, then what is the use of worrying?” —Shantideva

5. Surround yourself with positive voices 

If you want to know how to stop worrying and start living, a big change you can make is switching your smartphone habits. 

Social media gives us the potential of placing every distressing moment happening anywhere in the world in front of us all the time. 

We are flooded with images and points of view that do not foster calm in our lives. Troubling events were once localised but now they are globalised. We now live in a world where instead of hearing about the one troubling event happening in our neighbourhood, we hear about 500 alarming things. 

This constant flood of information places us in a constant state of emergency and worry. 

How do we calibrate all this information and decide which tragedy is the one worth actually worrying about? Unplugging is the only escape hatch we have. Constant exposure to biased or exaggerated catastrophes will keep you in a constant state of flux.

Yes, it’s important to be aware of global issues but surrounding yourself with them constantly will lead to unnecessary worry so limit your exposure to a very small amount of the day or week. 

Finally, be careful about spending time with toxic people. Because you catch what you are close to. And before you catch feeling, you catch a thought. 

At Christmas last year, I ate a whole tub of Connoisseur ice cream. I didn’t feel sick while I was eating it, I felt sick later. 

Sometimes you are scrolling and you don’t feel sick till later. In this information age it becomes difficult to trace where the ill feelings emanate from. Guard the affections of your heart because it influences the person you become.

Of course, to ‘stop worrying and start living’ is easier said than done. Like anything, it requires practice. So take note of your thoughts, remind yourself not to let them control you and keep on trying every day until living a life free from pointless worry becomes a habit. 

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