There is a thief that has robbed me repeatedly over the past 20 years, both in my personal and professional lives. I have never recovered anything that this thief has taken from me, but I have found ways to protect myself against being violated again in the future.
This thief has a name, and its name is Worry. It has taken from me two of the most precious things we have on this earth – peace of mind and the sweet gift of time.
Worry is a practiced burglar. It sneaks in, quietly at first, innocuous and small, like a speck of dust or a tiny seed. And then the seed sprouts, grows and takes over, like a cancer. Before you know it, that thing – whatever it is that’s causing you worry and stress – becomes the only thing you can think about, making it impossible to do anything else. Your mind becomes polluted, and you get to the point where you can’t even function. You lose any joy in the present moment, sleeping is out of the question, and your entire personality can be changed.
The funny thing is, the thief isn’t even real. All of this happens in your own mind as it spins a fictional tale of what might happen “if” or “when.” It turns out, when Worry comes in we become extremely skilled at telling dark and twisted stories about our impending doom.
I remember one time when Worry blindsided me on what should have been a fun night out. My future husband and I had moved to Los Angeles with a handful of possessions and little money. Although we were both working, paychecks were sporadic at best, and they never came in as fast as the bills did. We were working hard to build a life for ourselves, but at that time all of the unknowns felt like a mountain that was exhausting to look at, let alone climb.
Somehow, in the midst of all of that, we had managed to scrape together enough money to go and see a Joan Baez concert at the Greek Theater, but unfortunately, Worry followed us there too. No sooner had we sat down than it hit me full force. I felt the panic taking over, uncontrollable. “Oh, my goodness,” I said, wringing my hands. “What are we going to do? We don’t have any money. We are never going to be able to figure this out. We have no backup plan!”
My tirade went on and on, as John tried to talk me down and back into the present moment. It helped a little, but the feeling of panic never really went away, and the night that should have been so pleasant was absolutely stolen away by my soon familiar companion, Worry.
Worry became a regular visitor during the ensuing years and took from me many beautiful days, and countless nights, that could have been spent in rejuvenating slumber. I recognized that Worry never served me well. It never helped to solve any actual problems, or do anything constructive, but it wasn’t until years later that I finally figured out how to protect myself from its unwanted presence.
After living with this thief for too many years, I highly recommend the following techniques to protect your inner peace:
- Be very protective of the messages you allow into your consciousness. Newscasts, violent or disturbing TV shows and films, and negative “scare-mongering” people have no place in your life. If you can’t eliminate them completely, you can at least tune them out.
- Realize that worry is a form of fear, and fear and love cannot cohabitate. It’s either one or the other, so when you feel Worry seeping in, consciously choose love. One helpful technique is to practice writing down a list of things you’re grateful for, right here, right now. No matter how bad things seem, everyone has good things to acknowledge, and the more you do this the easier it gets.
- Recognize that Worry is about a future myth that hasn’t happened yet and may never happen. Focus instead on the present, taking one second, one minute at a time. You’re okay right now in this moment, so accept that, breathe, and practice being present. Practices like meditation can help to center you if you find this difficult.
- Accept that you need to let go of any outcome of your situation, and trust that whatever happens is for your higher good. Once you fully accept that, try taking baby steps towards making a positive impact on whatever Worry is trying to taunt you with. If it’s a money issue, figure out what tiny steps you can take to begin to move your finances in the right direction. If it’s a relationship issue try making a little effort to improve things. Then let go of having to control how the whole thing turns out. It is exactly as it should be.
- Help someone else. One of the quickest ways to inner peace, and one of the fastest ways to squash Worry is to get the focus off of yourself. Volunteer, call a friend and offer to help around their home or business, begin performing random acts of kindness with total strangers, always expecting nothing in return. Worry can’t handle this kind of altruism and will soon be a distant memory.
I have found that Worry still shows up from time to time, and even occasionally gets a temporary foothold, but it doesn’t stay long. I am deeply protective of my inner peace and the more I stand my ground on the matter the easier it gets. In fact, these days I can even fight it off in my sleep.