“If you fixate on your worst case scenario and it actually happens, you’ve lived it twice.”

~ Michael J. Fox

I suspect Michael Fox knows about imagining worst case scenarios. He lives with a chronic degenerative illness.

So his point about worry is excellent and applicable. Worrying about what might happen means we may have to live all the pain and drama – not just if it happens, but for the days? weeks? years? that we have been worrying about it.

Worry is a mental habit that causes stress. Yes, causes. We often think we are controlling a situation, or ourselves, by gearing up with worry. We won’t be surprised! Nothing will come out of the blue – we are worried and ready!

But the reality is lots of things come out of the blue – life can be quite random. And our worry doesn’t prepare us – it creates stress and anxiety.

It is a habit to worry – a rut in our minds that often runs just below conscious awareness. This mental habit cascades into reactions in our body – pain worsens, our hearts can suffer, along with other negative health consequences.

So what can we do about it? How can we change our worry habit?

Here are three places to start:

Begin to observe your worry habit.

We can’t change anything unless we can see and recognize it. Notice when you worry, what stimulates your worry button, and when it creeps up on you. Often when we are doing something repetitive e find our mind habitually turns to something. Enlist others to help you identify what you talk about or bring up or put on Facebook. Is it worry related?

Practice a simple substitution.

As you notice your worrying thoughts, replace them with something else. Think about what works for you. Some people like reality testing – how likely is it that that situation will occur? Do you have data that it’s going to be so bad or are you going on a downward spiral? Some prefer a comforting inner voice, like a loving adult who takes care of you. “It’s going to be ok. You can handle whatever comes.” Another path is to let yourself feel whatever drives the worry: fear, sadness, loneliness, and then breathe the feeling through. Usually the worry moves through with it. This doesn’t have to be a lengthy process and the more you practice it the more quickly you can do it.

Distract yourself.

If you find you can’t address the worry in the ways above, then change something. Move around. Put on some music that lifts your mood. Call a friend. Our bodies are simple creatures and we respond to the stimulation at hand. This is not a long term solution, but when you can’t stop the cycle, interrupting it works. If you feel well enough to do something physical, that helps too. Step outside and take a deep breath. Walk around the block. R if you are able to be even more active, lift weights, run or take a bike ride.

These are three easy places to start changing your worry habit. Try them and let me know how it goes!