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Home » Featured, Headline, Managing Emotions, Problem Solving

Don’t Worry Be Happy; Learn to Replace Worry with Curiosity

Submitted by on February 7, 2013 – 1:10 amNo Comment

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Author: JoAnne Ceccarelli-Egan LCSW

Years ago I was locked in a worry habit. Each morning I would wake up and my mind would begin to scan the landscape of my life, the way a hawk scans land for food. I was not looking for food; I was looking for something to worry about. The enormity of this habit became apparent one day when I found myself laying in bed trying to choose which one of my three top worries I would feed on that day. One morning, I became aware of this practice and realized that I needed to stop the worry habit in order to have a happy day. Do you do that? Have you gotten so used to worrying that it is a familiar companion throughout your day? In this month’s tip, I am going to share ways to replace worry with curiosity.

WORRY WASTES ENERGY and does not accomplish anything positive. You get stuck in a default position and you feel uneasy because you focus on fear rather than a solution. Night time worry is especially insidious because you tend to be in an ineffectual position. Generally there is little that you can do at that moment to solve your situation. Thus your mind races with “what if’s” which make it difficult for you to settle down. Worry can become a destructive mental habit of repetitive, negative thoughts that creates stress and “dis-ease”. You may have valid reasons to be concerned. When it is realistic or appropriate, you would be better served to shift your thoughts from worry to curiosity about the situation.

CURIOSITY CONFRONTS THE PROBLEM and looks for constructive solutions. Have you ever untangled a ball of yarn? When it snags, you need to be very patient and examine each piece in order to untangle and unwind it. Often a worry or a frustrating problem can be resolved through this type of curiosity. You calmly pick at each snag, put it down when you are stuck then come back to it gently re-examining and unraveling some more. Some nights, curiosity may actually prevent sleep. This is because your mind is examining the problem from different perspectives in order to uncover solutions that may not be obvious. In is the case if you begin to feel stuck, put the problem down like you would the yarn and invite your unconscious to sleep on the situation. Often you will find that you come up with a solution in the morning just as you awaken.

FIND YOUR TRIGGER. Next time you find yourself incessantly worrying take note: notice the time of day, the topic of worry and what you are doing. Two times that I worry the most is when I am not feeling well or when I am tired. In both cases, I am less resilient and therefore less capable. Since discovering this trigger, my antidote is simple self talk. I remind myself that I am tired or feeling sick and will choose to re-examine the worry at another time. Generally, when I do re-visit it, I find it more manageable. Another “self talk” I say is I will worry about it when I have all the information. I find that when the “worry” finally arrives, it often has new aspects or people to assist that I had not considered and is more manageable.

FIGURE OUT THE ROOT CAUSE. Does your worry provide a distraction? Sometimes you unconsciously focus on a worry because it prevents you from doing something you really need to accomplish. For example, it is much easier to worry about your partner’s need to lose weight, than lose it yourself. In some families, worry can be a way of showing concern and love about someone. Do you feel heartless if you step back and allow a loved one to solve his problem? Is worry your designated role in your family, friendship or work place? When you are the “go to person” for solutions, initially it might make you feel good because it can create an illusion of power and importance but it can also be exhausting.

CHANGE THE HABIT. Notice the person or situation that you worry about the most. Once you identify it, establish a new habit. Take the worry and place it in an imaginary hot air balloon or a boat on a lake. Then as you take some slow deep breaths gently release it to God on the exhale. Another idea is to carry a small stone in your pocket as a reminder that you have “let go”. When you start to worry, begin rubbing the rock and then move the stone to the other pocket. This will help interrupt the worry cycle and give you a chance to refocus. If worry is a morning habit, upon awakening, take a few minutes to lay still and take some slow deep breaths. As you exhale, visualize “letting go” of the worry and invite your body to feel relaxed by repeating the word “relax” on the exhale. As you continue to breathe, get in the habit of thinking about one positive in your life that is equally true. (This is usually the time I decide to wear something cute, a thing that day to make me happy.)

Many people spend a great deal of time and energy worrying about what may or may not ever happen in the future. If you let them, worries will march into your psyche the moment you open your eyes and can continue to agitate you throughout the day, robbing you of peace and serenity. If you take action by using the above methods you do not actually worry about what is happening right at that moment because you are busy responding. Often when the worry situation finally arrives you have more resiliencies than you imagined to deal with it. This month, I invite you try the above tips and become curious about your life challenges as you follow the advice in Bob Marley’s song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”!

Reflection questions:

What is your chief worry?

When do you tend to worry?

What is one positive thought you can use to replace your worry?

Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy Leo Buscaglia


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About the Author

JoAnne is a sought after and experienced lecturer who believes in the connection of emotional health to body, mind and spirit. She has integrated clinical counseling with holistic techniques and has formalized her knowledge by creating the Journey Back to Self program. She began public speaking in 1991 and has offered this workshop at the National Association of Social Workers Conference, The Connecticut Business Woman’s Forum, BayState Medical “Spirit of Women” and New England Yoga studios.

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