Can we choose to worry? Can we choose not to worry?
If you identify yourself as a worrier, then the idea that you could choose not to worry probably sounds unrealistic. So let’s try this different, but related, question: Can we choose what we worry about?
How might it help to actively choose what we worry about? Because then we could also choose boundaries for our worry topics.
Even if you are a worrier, you may have some boundaries on your worries already. That is, there are some things that you worry about; others that you may deliberately put out of your mind, ignore, or just never think about.
If we had no worry boundaries, then there would literally be no limit to our potential worries. There would never be a moment’s worry-free peace because as long as there is life and breath, there is something that one could find to worry about.
So let’s say that we could set boundaries. How might we do that?
A nice choice theory-based question could be, “Is this something that’s under our control?” While this question is often a helpful starting point, in this case, it may not be the most effective question.
Why not? There are so many things that folks worry about—from polar bears to meteors to nuclear war—that are not under our control. Just because they’re not under our control doesn’t make us immune from worrying about them though, does it?
So while the control question is a valid one, it might not be enough. Here are a few other questions that might help you gain perspective.
- Is this my responsibility?
If I’m worrying over the choices that my teenager is making about friends, school and recreation, then the answer is likely yes. If I am worrying over the choices of an acquaintance, a distant relative, or even some celebrity, then perhaps I can reduce some of that wasted worried energy by choosing to define a boundary.
Different people have different responsibilities. None of us is large enough to take on all the worries of the world. Categorizing your worries according to the question, “Am I responsible for this?” could help.
- Is this worry helping me to make my life—or anyone else’s life—better? Or is the energy that I am spending on worry diverting me from activities that would make my life, or that of another, better?
For example, I’m worried that it might snow tomorrow and cause chaos in my schedule. I’m pretty sure there’s nothing I can do to prevent the snow. I can worry: scan the forecasts, look out the window and fret, and mutter, “Please don’t snow.”
Or, I could use my time to come up with a contingency plan in case it does snow. Taking that action would be productive and it might even help distract me from my worry.
- Finally, am I inadvertently seeking out things to worry about? The time I spend agonizing over what I see on the news, browsing through facebook, looking up on twitter—are there alternative activities that would add more positive value to my life?
Do the things I worry about help me feel closer to people? Or do they leave me feeling more suspicious? Do they bring me closer to the people I care about? Or do they only detract from real, personal relationships?
When given this gift of life, we have a good deal of choice in how we handle it. While categorizing your worries won’t make them disappear, if you’re going to worry, putting boundaries on what you choose to worry about may help you gain a little more control.
Do you put boundaries on your worries?