This article was written for www.online-psychology.net.
Worrying is generally a negative feeling, an emotion, or a state of mind, that we experience right now when we think about the possibility of an event happening in the future. To counteract this feeling we usually try one of these two strategies:
- Distraction – „Okay, I am too worried, let me go for a walk, go drink a beer with my friends, turn on the TV…“ We try to forget and cover this uncomfortable feeling. The feeling is there but we focus on something else. We look in another direction.
- Avoidance – We try everything possible to avoid the actualization of the feared event.
So in the first case we suppress an emotion, we try to ignore it, but it’s still there and it can manifest in other ways, for example as a psychosomatic symptom (headache, backache, low energy, chronic concentration problem).
With the second strategy we develop a vicious circle and we waste our energy on thinking and overthinking again and again on ways how to avoid this feared event. This can lead to tiredness, stress, anxiety, sleepless nights etc.
The way we suggest here on how to deal with worries is totally different. At first glance this method can look surprising, paradoxical, and sometimes even scary. Instead of distraction or avoidance this method implies to sit with the emotion and to connect with it.
1. Understanding the non-existence of the future
When we worry about the possibility of an event in the future we have to understand that we are worrying about nothing, because the future does not exist yet. So if we worry this means that our mind predicted and imagined the future and took this imagination for reality. For example: When I drive a car, I am worried and anxious because I am afraid to have an accident. The accident might not happen but I think the probability that it will happen is very high.
2. Why do I think about the future in this way?
When we think about the possibility of this feared event in the future we have to question: why are we focused on this event and why did we imagine it the way we did? Since we cannot predict the future it is also possible that the future event will be one of the most beautiful and happiest of our life. But when we worry, we are far from imagining positive scenarios like this one. While rationally, the probability of a good or a bad event could be the same. But when we worry all our energy is directed towards the worst case scenario. So at this point instead of focussing on the possibilities, let’s watch this creation of our mind like a movie and let’s look into it from a comfortable distance without getting lost in the emotion. Where does this movie come from?
3. Understanding that the future is connected with the past
As we focus on the event that we imagined the image becomes clearer and clearer. Now we can easily identify the emotion that we will feel in this anticipated scenario: It can be sadness, anger, jealousy, guilt, loss of control etc. We have to let ourselves go into this experience. How would we feel if that event that we imagined would become reality right now? The more we connect with this emotion the more we will realize that we already felt this emotion in the past. It is very important to understand that without memory, without consciousness of our past, we cannot imagine neither a happy nor a dark future. So if we are worried about the possibility of an event in the future that will cause a negative emotion, it means that we already lived this emotion in the past.
4. Going back to the past
Now that we identified the emotion that is linked to the anticipated event, we can remember when we felt this emotion before and which past event has triggered this emotion. It is very useful to look back at our emotional experiences in the past. We can look at them from a comfortable distance, without falling under the control of the emotion. For example: 5 years ago I had a small accident and I felt an extreme loss of control and was overwhelmed by fear.
Now it is important to analyze the connection between the past event and the past emotion. We tend to think that these two are related like cause and effect. The event A happened and the emotion B was the result. We assume the same connection of cause and effect will happen in the future. While it could also be the case that the event A happens but the emotion B does not appear (or appear on a lower scale). For example: I could have another accident with my car in the future but I could feel incredibly happy and lucky because I was not injured.
Conclusion: If I had an accident in the past and I cried from fear, it is also possible that I will have a similar accident in the future and I will laugh. In the future everything is possible.
5. Creating the opposite scenario
After analyzing our emotion of worrying and understanding that it comes from creating a particular scenario of future, and that we link this possible scenario to a particular emotion. Now that we understood also that this particular emotion comes from a past emotion and a past event, we have also the freedom to look in the past for positive events linked to opposite emotions.
Let’s imagine that the future event will be totally opposite from what we are worrying about. Let’s imagine that it will be very positive, and let’s imagine the emotion that will be linked to this new creation of our mind. Of course it is hard to imagine positive outcomes when we are anxious and worried, but this is the way out of the vicious circle.
We are free to imagine the future as incredibly wonderful and joyful. And we can also imagine the emotions that will come with it: joy, love, happiness, bliss, etc. This very positive scenario can also happen, but our worried mind forgets it. We oddly don’t think that it is possible or likely to happen! While training our mind in anticipating a positive outcome, positive outcomes are also more likely to appear.
So in this psychological approach we do not suppress our worries through distraction neither do we focus on avoiding the feared future. Rather we use our experience of worry, to understand it, to learn from it, to re-frame our past and to create an antidote that we can use in the present and the future.