“If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.” ― Dalai Lama XIV
Humans worry a lot. It is built into our DNA. Being concerned about what might happen in the future from an evolutionary perspective is a very good thing. It can help us anticipate or prevent problems from happening. It can help us avoid harmful occurrences. Worry about what another driver in front of us might do is useful in preventing accidents. So, worrying can help us survive.
Worry involves cognitive processes (thoughts) that help us to project into the future and anticipate potentially harmful events. But, worry itself can become a problem. Worrying is an unpleasant state. It can produce fear and anxiety. It produces unpleasant feelings. So, we can even worry about the bad internal feelings that worrying produces and end up worrying about worrying. It can become a vicious cycle and can make us miserable. “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy” (Leo Buscaglia).
Worry can be useful but if we worry about every possible negative outcome or event it becomes rumination and produces more trouble than it prevents. As Mark Twain quipped “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them have never happened.” So, we need to use worry in constructive ways while not letting it get out of hand and wreak havoc with our emotions.
Contemplative practices have been shown to decrease worry and rumination. The mindfulness training appears to be an antidote to being overly worried. In today’s Research News article “Dissociation between the cognitive and interoceptive components of mindfulness in the treatment of chronic worry”
Delgado-Pastor and colleagues demonstrated that mindfulness training reduces worry, depression, and anxiety in overly worried female students. They took it, however, one step further and found that a mindfulness practice that involved particularly paying attention to the internal feelings associated with worry was more effective in reducing worry than a practice focused on the thoughts surrounding worry. In other words, it appeared that focusing on feeling rather than thoughts was the best strategy for dealing with excessive worry but both strategies were helpful.
What does mindfulness do to help regulate worry? For one thing it helps us focus on the present and experience it in preference for the past or the future. Since worry involves concerns about future occurrences to some extent based upon past experiences, the more one can focus on the present the less opportunity there is for worries to arise. Mindfulness training also involves learning to view events non-judgmentally. It trains the individual to accept the worry, experience it, and then move on. This reduces the impact of the worry and prevents the development of worrying about worrying.
Particularly by learning to mindfully pay attention to the feelings arising with worry the individual can learn to experience the unpleasant feelings associated with the anxiety produced with non-judgmental awareness. This undercuts the power of the worries. Learning to mindfully pay attention to the thought process involved in worry, the individual can learn to rationally evaluate the thoughts and sort out which anticipated future events are likely and should be avoided and which are too unlikely to be concerned about, eliminating many worries altogether.
So, be mindful, follow the Dalai Lama’s advice and stop worrying.