Here’s a list of the things my children have already survived: automobile accidents, bird flu, cancer, and kidnapping. If you think that’s impressive, listen to what I’ve managed to live through: bankruptcy, an airline crash, a stroke, robbery, and attempted murder—yes, murder! Okay, well, maybe not. It’s just that all these are things I’ve worried about at times, my anxious mind propelling us into disasters that never happened. Can you relate?
Most of us waste precious time and energy dealing with threats that never materialize. Still, worry can be useful if it wakes us up to impending problems, motivating us to seek solutions in response. Worry is a good thing when it serves as a helpful alert. The problem comes when worry morphs into a faulty alarm that won’t stop ringing.
Here are a few practical tips for turning off your worry alarm.
- Since worry is often powered by thoughts that develop below the surface, slow down and think about what you are thinking. Write down whatever undercurrents are powering your anxiety.
- Once you have these thoughts on paper, examine them rationally. Pretend you are a trial lawyer, looking for holes, distortions, and inaccuracies in your thinking. Are you taking the whole picture into account or only emphasizing the most negative dimensions? What evidence refutes or supports your thoughts?
- Based on your rational examination, formulate a response that is more realistic than your original thoughts. For example, you might conclude, “Just because my son received an F on his last algebra test doesn’t mean he’s going to flunk out of school.”
Perhaps the most effective way to deal with worry is to “de-catastrophize” it. We do this by facing it squarely, asking ourselves what’s the worst that could happen. Then we think about what we would do to cope with the situation. Doing so may help diminish our anxiety and give us a sense of healthy control.1 As you take these steps, be sure to ask God to guide your thinking through the power of his Spirit.
- These practical suggestions are drawn from William Sanderson, “Why Do People Worry and How One Can Overcome It?,” interview by Cheryl Washington, Good Day New York, Fox Network, July 14, 1992, transcript accessed October 10, 2011, http://www.ctcli.com/worry.html.