Worrying

My whole life I have been good at imagining how things can go wrong. I have spent many wakeful hours in bed, worrying about events that never happened and dangers that never appeared.

All these worries consumed a great deal of energy and were the root of many moments of suffering.

There is a Dutch proverb:

‘Een mens lijdt het meest door het lijden dat hij vreest’

‘One suffers most due to the suffering one fears’

This proverb tells us that most of our suffering is caused by our own fear of suffering. Many of the things we worry about, never happen, so why should we worry in the first place?

Well-intended advice to ‘just stop worrying’ does not usually help in these situations. Stopping a flow of worrying thoughts can feel like stopping the flow of a river; a nearly impossible task.

What we need is an alternative to ‘just stop worrying’. These are a couple of suggestions:

Physical exercises

Our body and mind function through energy. However, this energy does not always flow in the most beneficial way.

When thoughts in our head are wild and dominant, we can have the experience of energy being stuck in our head.

Instead of actively trying to stop our thoughts, which adds energy to our head, we can focus on ways of redistributing our energy to the rest of our body, creating more balance in our system. We can do this by:

  • Warming up and/or massaging the feet and hands
  • Loosening the neck, which is the gateway between the head and the rest of the body, by gently rolling the head back and forth, from side to side, and in circles.
  • Gently bending the spine back and forward, with a focus on lengthening the spine.
  • Deep, slow abdominal breathing to direct energy to the lower parts of your torso (for a detailed description of this exercise, click here)
  • Gentle walking in fresh air to activate the feet and grounding of your body.

Through awareness (more advanced)

Take an imaginative step back and disengage from your thoughts; instead of being carried away by the content of the thoughts, look at them from a distance.

Notice that the nature of thoughts is to come up, change and disappear.

Let the thoughts go by without stopping them but also without actively feeding them with more emotional material (like negative past experiences, negative future scenarios).

When we worry, we are disconnected from the present moment. Our mind is engaged with a story in our head. To bring our awareness back to the present moment, we can use an anchor. An anchor is something that is rooted in the present moment, like an object you see, a sound you hear, or the sensations you feel in your body.

One of the most commonly used anchors is the breath. The breath is something which is always here with us, and which is always in the present moment.

To practice this, firmly decide that you want to focus your awareness on your breath. You can focus on the sensations in the nostrils, the movement of the breath in the torso and the belly. With each inhalation and each exhalation, be aware of your breath.

When the mind wanders away (which it most definitely will do, not just once but many times!), very gently and kindly bring it back to your anchor: the breath. Without judging. Without getting irritated, angry or disappointed.

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