Do you stay up nights worrying about your marriage, your health, your finances — even how much you worry? Take heart: You’re not alone. In fact, some of the most successful people in the world are worriers. What separates these worrying winners from the rest of us nervous wrecks? Simple: They know how to use their fretting to their advantage.
Psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell, author of Worry: Hope and Help for a Common Condition, explains that good worrying leads us to do something positive, while “toxic” worry just paralyzes us with fear. “If you have a mole on your forearm that’s frightening you and you go to the doctor, that’s good worry; it led to a productive action,” says Hallowell. “On the other hand, if you see the mole and you freeze, that’s toxic worry — unproductive, frightening, life-defeating.”
Follow Hallowell’s easy five-step plan to help you get rid of toxic worry and start making your worry work for you.
1. Never worry alone.
This is the first and most important step. Talk about your worries with someone you trust: your husband, sister, best friend. “The most powerful anti-anxiety agent ever invented is connection,” says Hallowell.
2. Get the facts.
Toxic worry is usually rooted in lack of information, wrong information or both. Talk with your boss, doctor, banker, husband or whoever can help you get to the bottom of the situation. “Better to have the conversation than to just hope things will work out,” says Hallowell.
3. Make a plan.
Based on the facts you get, make a plan to address what’s worrying you — then begin following it, one step at a time. For instance, if money is the problem, you could set up a savings account or follow a budget.
“Toxic worry loves a passive victim,” says Hallowell. “But as long as you’re active, you will feel more in control and less vulnerable — the two key variables in the worry equation.”
What if the plan doesn’t work? Revise it! If your new budget isn’t saving you enough money, try looking for a part-time job or another new source of income. “That’s what life is all about — revising plans,” says Hallowell.
4. Be good to yourself.
Women in the grip of toxic worry often neglect their health, which makes everything worse. Now, more than ever, you need to get enough sleep, eat a balanced diet (don’t be tempted by junk food!) and get some exercise every day. Prayer and/or meditation can also help you feel calm and centered. Surround yourself with supportive people and avoid those who put you down or make you feel more stressed.
5. Let the worry go.
Only when you complete the first four steps can you let go and trust that you’re doing everything you can to solve the problem. It’s not easy to say goodbye to a worry — and often it can come back again and again — but keep at it and continue working on your plan of action. Over time, your mental energy will free up and you’ll feel better and more positive about yourself.
“It can take work and perseverance to move yourself out of these downward spirals,” says Hallowell. “But the rewards are great, and it gets easier with time.”