how to stop worrying

don't worry
In fourth grade we had to come up with an invention. I always hated projects like that as a kid. As a perfectionist, straight A student, this wasn't something that could be checked over, perfected, or found through careful study of the textbook. This meant going out on a limb and risking imagination. Don't get me wrong - I had imagination in spades as a child. I wrote stories about my imaginary friends in my free time. I just didn't like being graded on my imagination.

Anyway, the invention I came up with probably isn't that much of an "invention" in the traditional sense. I came up with the "worry wheel." On the top was a wheel divided into pie pieces, each labeled with a traditional worry applicable to a 4th grader. For example, being busy with homework and after school activities, grades, lost something, etc. You could spin the wheel, and a window would land on a Bible passage that talks about worry. I think I ended up getting an A, probably because it had a Biblical theme and I went to a Lutheran school, and not necessarily because of the genius of my invention.

The invention itself wasn't brilliant by any means. But at the time, it was very relevant in my young life.  I often think back on third grade as one of the most emotionally turbulent years I have had. Nothing traumatic happened to me, but I anguished about every small detail of my life. High school was more of the same, fretting about my future, my grades, my busy schedule, and my relationships. I turned into a very bitter and sullen person. Present Day Emily would not want to be friends with High School Emily.

Fast forward to adulthood. Specifically Christmas Day 2013. My family was playing Table Topics Conversation Cards, and the question, "What do you worry about?" arose. I racked my brain. I ruminated and brainstormed. I could not think of a single thing I had truly worried about in the past year to the point of staying up at night. How had I turned into this person that had learned to let go? When did this change happen? Most importantly, what techniques did I use to avoid worrying?

I think back to a year ago when I was pregnant with Pip. Pregnancy has the potential to be 9 months of straight worry, and even more so when the doctor recommends a level 2 ultrasound for a suspicious white spot found on the regular ultrasound. "But please don't worry about it," they said. The joy of finding out the gender of our baby was momentarily cut short.

So my husband and I went home and took to the internet. We looked up the facts, risks, and cases. We talked about it. We prayed. And then we stopped worrying and moved on. There was nothing we could do but wait. There was nothing that worrying would accomplish. In fact, stress during pregnancy can even have negative effects. We made a conscious decision to be relaxed, hopeful, and happy.

I have applied the following strategies whenever I have a reason to worry. Without realizing it, I developed a routine whenever I was prone to apprehension, fear, or doubt. It works well for me, and I think it can apply to anyone who is sick of being stressed and worried.

1. Verbalize. Say the problem out loud. What exactly are you worried about? This step is really important. Things are less scary when you bring them from the darkness into the light.

2. Abyss. Figure out the worst possible scenario. Think of ways you would cope with it. Realize that you are strong enough to handle whatever that worst case scenario is. Really dive into the abyss.

3. Pray. Turn to scripture and prayer. God instructs us not to worry. Trust in him. He will calm your storms and shoulder your burdens. Pray for resolutions to your problem. Pray for strength to handle the consequences.

4. Action. Do what can be done. Make a phone call, send an email, crunch the numbers, apologize, Google possible solutions, whatever. If nothing can be done, make a conscious decision to hand it over to God. (Much like the serenity prayer instructs)

5. Relax. Perform a calming ritual. Mine tend to be taking a hot shower, writing about it, pouring a cup of coffee or tea, reading a book, etc. For some people it could be exercise, a massage, listening to music, or cleaning.

6. Stop. Stop talking or thinking about it. Just stop. At this point you have done what you can, you have prayed, you have thought it through. Now you are done. You have a life to live, people who depend on you, and joys to experience. This is not burying your head in the sand. This is choosing not to let your problem take over your life.

That's it. It's so simple. It applies to money problems, angry bosses, parents, and coworkers, sick children, lost credit cards, bad grades, and bad decisions. God can handle it, and you can handle the consequences whatever they are.

Further reading: Matthew 6:25-34, Mark 4:35-41, Isaiah 41:10, I Peter 5:7, Matthew 11:28-29, John 14:27, Philippians 4:4-8, Romans 8:31

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