"Marissa, I'm worried about how my life will look in retirement , which is 2-3 years away. What will I do in the second half of my life? I don't want to waste it. Right now I have no real vision."
This was part of an email I received from a client asking me to help map out a clear path for his future.
In my response, I shared my mindset on facing the unknown. "Our youngest will go to college in 2 years so opportunities will open up for me. What will that look like? While I have some ideas, I can't possibly know for sure. If I fixate on the unknown, I may begin to tell myself stories that are not true. Therefore, I've decided to focus on the Now."
I shared that through my mindset work and spiritual practice, I've retrained my thought process to focus on what is right in front of me, while still moving towards a larger vision of my life.
While some may conclude that I'm simply choosing to ignore the inevitable, in fact I'm setting myself up for an even greater outcome, because worrying is detrimental to our overall health, happiness, and productivity.
"Consistent worrying can have both short and long term effects on your well-being," says Dr. Simon A. Rego, a cognitive behavioral psychologist who specializes in anxiety disorders, and the author of a Liberty Mutual Report on the consequences of worrying.
"Perhaps most simply stated, worrying is a behavior that steals joy, affecting sleep and decision making. It's understandable to feel more overwhelmed when facing new situations but there are simple ways to contain worry to live a more fulfilled life," he shares.
Worrying has several physiological effects as well:
1: It Drains Your Energy.
Stress from worry triggers an adrenaline-powered burst of energy. However, after that initial burst, it quickly drains you. Physically and emotionally, you'll find yourself exhausted.
2: It Impacts Your Focus.
Worrying hijacks your brain and makes it difficult to focus on what is important.
3: It Wastes Your Time.
Have you ever spent an entire day worrying about something that "might happen?" At the end of the day, your situation hasn't changed but you've lost valuable time.
4: It Causes Interruptions.
Have you ever had your internal fire alarm go off? You're right in the middle of something important, when you suddenly remember your source of worry, and you're no longer focused.
5: It Decreases Your Creativity and Rational Thinking
When you constantly worry, you tend to "lock on" to the first solution that comes your way. Your mind has trouble opening up, and you struggle to come up with new ideas.
Shifting Your Focus to Minimize Your Worry
Here are 5 strategies to help you get control over your worrying, and the one question you can ask yourself every day:
1: Remember That Thoughts Are Not Facts.
We create stories about the unknown that are largely based on emotion and wrong assumptions. Fear of the unknown causes us to exaggerate the worst possible outcomes.
2: Change Your Attitude About Obstacles.
We have complete control over how we perceive an obstacle. Do we see it as an opportunity for growth and learning, or do we see it as a barrier and potential disaster? The opportunity is always within the obstacle.
3: Develop Greater Self-Control and Perseverance.
Deciding to reject worrying takes discipline, and a high degree of emotional intelligence. It requires us to choose to not be ruled by our emotions. Speaking from experience, it's difficult to master, but the benefit is peace of mind, which leads to increased productivity and greater joy.
4: Create Positive Distractions.
Engage in other aspects of life that bring you joy, so that the source of worry isn't the only central part of your day. Seek out positive people and communities, and distance yourself from others that encourage or feed on your worrying.
5: Create a Plan.
Those who have extreme anxiety about the unknown may benefit from a plan of action that maps out ideas about what the future may hold.
Studies by human resource consultant Mercer and the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that workers waste a lot of time on the job worrying about money.
16 percent of the more than 3,000 workers it surveyed in September reported spending 20 or more hours on the job each month worrying about their finances. These employees may emotionally benefit from financial planning, which would provide a blueprint for budgeting and saving.
The Most Important Question
Finally, one of the most important ways to stop worrying is to ask yourself this question every day:
What is right in front of you that you are not seeing, because your focus is on something far off in the distance?
The greatest distraction for worrying about something in the future - something completely unknown - is to focus on what's right in front of you. By investing your energy, time, and heart in the Now, you are naturally preventing your worst case scenarios, and you are appreciating on what's real. And what can be better than that?