Last night, while I lay thinking here,
Some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
And pranced and partied all night long
And sang their same old Whatif song:
Whatif I’m dumb in school?
Whatif they’ve closed the swimming pool?
Whatif I get beat up?
Whatif there’s poison in my cup?
Whatif I start to cry?
Whatif I get sick and die?
Whatif I flunk that test?
Whatif green hair grows on my chest?
Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?
Whatif I don’t grow tall?
Whatif my head starts getting smaller?
Whatif the fish won’t bite?
Whatif the wind tears up my kite?
Whatif they start a war?
Whatif my parents get divorced?
Whatif the bus is late?
Whatif my teeth don’t grow in straight?
Whatif I tear my pants?
Whatif I never learn to dance?
Everything seems swell, and then
The nighttime Whatifs strike again!
We all experience the worry cycle. According to a Psychology Today article, “at least one in four Americans – about 65 million of us—will meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder at some point in our lifetime. Even those individuals whose lives are going well may worry excessively on occasion.” In our best moments, worry can take us down a spiral of fear where our minds play out dramas that leave us feeling powerless, vulnerable, and afraid. In our worst moments, worry can be paralyzing and health-diminishing. Excessive worrying can lead to poor decision-making and deter us from taking life-improving risks.
The crazy-making part of the worry cycle is that 99.9% of the time, the things we fret about never happen. Worry is a time-waster, an energy suck, a diminisher of life quality. Engaging in it rarely changes anything. Unfortunately, it’s hard to stop worrying. Good news though; there are some ways to get out of your brain-spinning story of fear and worry. Here are 5 tips:
1. Get some exercise
Moving your body is guaranteed to make you feel better. It not only provides a distraction, but exercise also causes your body to release endorphins which are “feel good” hormones that increase happiness, focus, and energy. Work up a sweat, get your blood pumping, and then notice how you feel. My bet is that you’ll feel better. In my experience, exercising is the number one way to reduce stress and anxiety.
2. Challenge the Worry Cycle with Tough Questions
Put your worry into perspective by journaling about it. Write down what you are worried about and why. Then ask yourself these questions, recording the answers in your notebook.
- Of all the things I’ve worried about, how many have come to be?
- If this worry does come true, what’s the worst thing that could happen? What’s the best thing that could happen? What’s most likely going to happen?
- Is this worry within my control? If it is, what can I do to help my situation? If it’s not, what can I do to reduce my fear?
- How will I feel about this worry when I read about it in my journal tomorrow?
- Tip: look at the answers the following day to gain perspective. If needed, continue journaling about it.
3. Power Pose
Amy Cuddy’s powerful TED Talk on Power Posing outlines the benefits of using dominant body postures to gain confidence and reduce anxiety. While there are Power Posing naysayers, I have found doing them to be incredibly helpful when I am feeling anxious, especially when it comes to speaking in front of people. Power Posing is easy; find someplace private, put your hands on your hips like Wonder Woman, stand up straight, puff out your chest, and breathe deeply with a smile on your face. Hold the pose for a few minutes and you’ll be surprised how much better you feel.
4. Talk it Out
Talking about your worry allows you to process it while gaining perspective and insight. Ask a confidant to listen and offer advice (if appropriate). If that doesn’t work, a therapist can be a good listener and provide you with worry-management tools. If your worry is around another person’s feelings, actions, etc., go talk to the person. While initiating the conversation may be difficult, you’ll have a sense of relief when you get to the bottom of it. You may not like what you hear but at least you’ll have concrete information and/or feedback. Even better, you may find out that your worry was all for naught and you can let it go.
5. Get Some Sleep
Sleep deprivation has been proven to increase anxiety and depression, compounding the “what if” problem. To better handle what life so throws at you, get 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Of course, excessive worrying can cause insomnia, creating a cycle that’s hard to break. Here is a great article on why sleep deprivation amplifies anxiety and some tips on how to improve your sleep routine.
A small amount of worry is healthy but letting it take over your life can lead to major health issues. The good news is that most of what you worry about will never come to be. For those things that do…trust yourself and your capacity to handle whatever life throws at you. You can cope with, survive, and move beyond whatever happens. Believe in yourself and you will be pleasantly surprised.
Thank you for reading! I welcome and am grateful for your comments, likes, and shares.
Like this? Check out my article on the importance of sharing the why.