If you are watching the news, and I bet you are, you are finding lots of reasons to feel worried and anxious these days. This is very understandable, particularly depending on where you are located.However, for the vast majority of people who take the proper precautions, this is not a dangerous time. Regardless, many of us will worry much more than we need to. This can harm our mental and physical health.Why is this? We are all prone to over worrying--there are evolutionary reasons for this. We have been programmed for thousands of years to worry mostly as a way to prevent bad things from happening. As experts have pointed out, the brains of modern humans have been more or less the same for around 200,000 years, and had initially evolved to deal with what is called an “Immediate Return Environment”, or one on which we had to react quickly to prevent harm. Yet just in the last 500 years our society has shifted to a “Delayed Return Environment”, where most of the time we do not have to respond immediately to a situation, but rather carefully consider options and strategies. To make matters worse, in the last 100 years we have seen the advent of the car, airplane, television, computer, etc., and in just the last 25 years the Internet, cell phones, and social media. The pace of change is exponential and causes increasing stress on our Immediate Return brains. What happens is that our brains go into a reaction mode in the face of any perceived threat or challenge, and then have lots of time to over react, worry, and even develop anxiety disorders which are increasingly common in our complex world. This is because our lives are mostly comprised of problems which can rarely be resolved right now. How then can we adapt our Immediate Response brains to our Delayed Response new world? What can we do about it?There are many ways to reduce worrying, such as learning to re-calibrate your emotions from negative to positive, living in the present, and practicing meditation, etc (which I’ll talk about next week). There is also a quick and powerful trick to short-circuit your over reactive brain which is to remind yourself (and your Immediate Return brain) that when you worry, you are doing what you are designed to do but not what you should be doing. We literally need to train ourselves to override our design.
The good news is it does not have to be that hard. While you can search the internet and book stores for all sorts of self-help strategies to reduce worrying, one of the most effective approaches is indeed the most simple. Start by creating a “worry monitor”, and each time you feel yourself stricken with useless worry, remind your over-reacting brain to STOP!It will seem strange and difficult at first, probably for the first week or two. However, as you continually remind yourself, there will be a natural process of reduction, even cessation of so much worrying. If you are not able to do this alone, then invite a friend, family member or colleague to remind you, and team up on your outdated brain. If worrying helps to remind you of important issues which need to be addressed, fine, but then just write down an action plan and leave those worries in the mind dumpster where they belong. You can also write (or leave a voice message) to yourself in English, Chinese or any language you like, “STOP Worrying, it’s a waste of time”....again and again.... You will be surprised how much it helps. Finally, one more interesting and helpful tool: Write down all your current worries once a week (for example every Monday), and then check your list a week later. You will be surprised to see what happened with all the things you were worrying about.
And again, take more action, worry less. Your body, mind and spirit will thank you! So will your family, friends and colleagues.