RISMEDIA, July 22, 2011— (MCT)—Q: I’m a worrier. I dwell on what might happen, for example, at a meeting, and then revisit what did happen over and over. I know this isn’t productive, but I can’t seem to stop it. This mostly happens at work; it’s not as big a deal at home. Suggestions?
A: Remaining grounded in the present moment leads to greater contentment and productivity.
It’s easy to get caught in a rumination cycle. Before an experience, there are so many unknowns to consider, and after, so many “if only” possibilities. You’ve already recognized that this isn’t helpful, which is the first step to changing your pattern.
Because this is a work-focused issue, it suggests that it’s situational. Take some time to identify the triggers. Are there certain types of meetings or projects, or prospective interactions with certain individuals that set off your thinking? Also notice situations at work that don’t lead to this ruminating, and put it all together to understand the patterns that may be at play.
You’ll then want to plan ways to catch yourself in this cycle. Know your cognitive, physical and emotional cues. For example, if you know that you start getting crabby or get a stomachache when you start to worry, watch for those feelings so you can see if you’re falling into worry.
Finally, develop a set of tools to facilitate breaking the habit. If you’re worrying prior to an event, get in the habit of asking yourself, “What’s happening with this right now?” If it isn’t posing a problem then, choose to think about other things. This is possible, but it does take discipline.
Another option is to ask yourself, “What can I do right now to get a desirable outcome?” This can lead to useful planning and preparation. Use a similar approach after the fact, asking yourself about ways you can learn from the experience.
Now that you’ve increased your awareness of your worry triggers and some approaches to breaking the pattern, it’s time to put them into action. Here’s one method that may be useful as a starting point.
When you start your day, use your commute time for relaxation and distraction. Music, audio books or quiet can all be very calming. If your mind drifts to work, observe it and let it drift away. You’ll be able to focus on that once you arrive, and will be better prepared if you’re fresh.
Then, when you arrive at work, take a few minutes to reflect back on recent experiences, gaining closure on any stressful events or interactions. Scan forward to anticipate any trigger events that might be coming up so that you can take a proactive and constructive approach to challenging areas, rather than a “fretting” approach.
At a more general level, look at your orientation to living in the moment. Looking backward and forward rather than being present in the current moment is common, and developing a sense of presence will make all of this much easier. Mindfulness practices are very helpful for this and can serve as a great preventive device for worrying.
Take a big-picture approach through developing mindfulness, while learning to better anticipate and address episodes of worry.
(c) 2011, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)