You know the song, ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy‘? It’s a nice little soundbite, but it’s actually pretty poor advice. In fact I’d go so far as to say this particular random motivational quote belongs in the bin. Why? Let me explain.
It’s so vague it’s worse than useless. While we can take many specific actions that are likely to make us happier, we can’t just ‘decide to be happy’, and trying to follow a crass instruction like this simply sets us up to fail and thus feel worse. The same goes for the ‘don’t worry’ part too. You can’t just ‘decide to stop worrying’: human brains are remarkably good at scanning for problems and we’re probably all hardwired to do it to a greater or lesser extent, so we need to actively engage in behaviours that reduce excessive worrying instead.
A certain amount of worrying is natural, and it’s potentially beneficial because it can help us anticipate and solve problems as we’re going along. However, it’s also easy to go over the top with it, and end up with anxieties that are out of proportion to the problem and irrational thoughts that need to be challenged. Instead of suppressing those fears and potentially making them even worse, you can tackle them head on in a productive and practical way.
How to take a worry dump
Today, all you need to do is put five or ten minutes aside in the evening. Take a deep breath or two, get comfortable, and focus on anything and everything you’re worried about. Write it all down on a notepad (even if it makes no sense or seems silly), as much as you can for up to ten minutes, then STOP. Set a timer if you need to.
Now remind yourself that most of the things we worry about never happen, or are greatly exaggerated. Also remind yourself that humans are pretty good at solving problems, and you’ve solved problems in the past.
Next, go through your list, and cross off anything that you know is probably irrational. That tells you it isn’t worth worrying about (technically it’s *you* telling yourself it isn’t worth worrying about).
Finally, if there’s anything left on your worry list that isn’t crossed out, commit to tackling your worry tomorrow even if it’s one small first step.
Invest in your future happiness
A small amount of worry is often useful, and it’s safe to embrace it. However, it can also get out of hand and make life difficult.
If you have difficulty sleeping due to things that are troubling you, try keeping a notepad by your bedside and doing a worry dump before you settle down to sleep. It often stops the worries going round and round in your head when you put them down on paper.
Other ways to reduce worry & anxiety include being generally proactive in life, tackling any debts, talking it out with a trusted friend or having counselling, or making an appointment to discuss serious anxiety with your GP.
Anxiety: Panicking about Panic: A powerful, self-help guide for those suffering from an Anxiety or Panic Disorder by Joshua Fletcher, CreateSpace, £8.95 paperback or £4.99 ebook. Buy here.
How to Relax, by Thich Nhat Hanh, Rider, £4.00. Buy here.
Are you going to spend five or ten minutes on this today? I promise the results will be interesting.