We all know worrying makes you miserable, but you do it anyway. You don’t WANT to worry, but you’re not sure how to stop. You can break free of worrying just like any other bad habit. But you need to be smart about it. Here are some practical strategies to help you stay positive, and live a focused, happier life.
How Your Mind Works
Your mind likes to think. It’s wired for thinking. But worry is unproductive thinking. Planning, however, is productive thinking so use that similarity to help your mind that shift. For example, many people are worried about their health right now. It takes just as much energy to worry about your health as it does to plan for your health. Just as you plan for your family’s financial future by investing or buying life insurance, you can plan for good health. Nothing is guaranteed, but you can still be prepared.
Each year, during the fall and winter, people tend to catch viruses and bacteria. Whenever I give a patient a flu shot, I also give them a dose of encouragement. I tell each patient to set a goal to come back next year a little bit healthier than they are right now. Even small changes such as eating more vegetables, starting a workout routine, or cutting out processed foods can make a big difference. The body is much more likely to fight off illness when it’s healthy. I want people to get in the habit of planning for their health instead of worrying about it. Those that have taken this advice to heart have made positive changes in their behavior and are healthier today.
It’s not too late to start. Spend some time taking an honest look at your physical health. Plan on making the changes that need to be made, such as losing weight, eating more vegetables, and starting a workout routine. Have fun planning. You have your good health to look forward to and are taking steps to get there.
Morning and Night, Keep Your Mind Right
When you make plans for your health, don’t forget about your mental health. If your mind is racing with fear and worry, it’s hard to shut it off, especially at night when you want to get a good sleep. Sound, restful sleep is vital to good health.
Here’s a strategy for calming your mind so you can sleep. Keep a little book to write your worries in before you go to bed. It’s best if this little book has a hardcover because that little “thump” sound of closing that book will signal your mind to relax. Before you go to bed, spend a few moments listing your worries in that little book and then as you close that cover, say to yourself, “I’m putting these thoughts aside for right now. I’m going to have a calm mind and a restful sleep.”
If you do this long enough, you won’t even need the book. Your mind will remember to set the worries aside in the evening.
If you start your day off with worry, it may be hard to stop. Start the day right with a good intention. Every morning, as you’re getting ready for your day, decide that before the day is over, you will notice three good things. You can use a post-it note to help yourself remember to do this. Put it on your bathroom mirror, the dashboard on your car, or on the door that you take to leave the house. This little note will say, “Dear _____ (insert your name), today you will notice three good things!”
You can notice the beauty of nature, such as the lovely Ohio fall trees. You can notice when someone says something nice to you or does something nice for you. You can notice when you do something nice for someone, and they thank you. If you set the intention, you will program your mind to be on the lookout for the good things.
Plan to Stay Present
Learning to be present and set your past or future worries aside takes time. It’s the perfect place to find peace. You’re a smart person. You know the past is gone, and the future hasn’t gotten here. So how do you get to the present moment? How do you train your mind away from fretting about the past and worrying about the future?
My favorite way to stay present is to do a vigorous workout. It’s hard to think about anything else when you’re sweating. Exercise is excellent for clearing the mind and staying present. I’ve even been seen doing push-ups at work. If that isn’t your thing, here’s something you can do any time, anywhere: stop and focus on your breath.
Pay attention as the air comes in and out of your nose. What temperature is the air as it comes in and as it goes out? Does it seem to be moving fast or slow? Is your breathing deep or shallow? Are you aware of the rise and fall of your abdomen? You can even put your hand on your belly and feel it rise and fall with your breath. Just pay attention without making any changes. If your mind starts to wander, bring it back to your breath.
You can do this any time to help yourself calm down. Again, if this is new to you, you may need to set reminders for yourself. Use the alarm on your phone. Every hour, take a few minutes to pay attention to your breathing.
I know you’re concerned for those you take care for. I know you’re strong and capable, but your thoughts drift to the worst-case scenarios like anyone else’s. As a leader, you want to set a good example by being calm, focused, and positive. I’m rooting for you.
What are you doing to help yourself stay positive? What is the first happy thought that pops into your mind?