Do you worry a lot?

Worrying is bad for your health and happiness. What’s more, it usually doesn’t achieve anything either. Not exactly an attractive package, is it?

But sometimes it’s just impossible to help yourself. You lie awake at night fretting, your mind and heart racing. Come morning, everything’s as you left it, except the bags under your eyes are that little bit bigger.

This is all down to our evolutionary hardwiring. Our ancestors’ survival depended on constant vigilance. Worrying was pretty useful when there was a good chance you’d stumble across a saber-toothed tiger!

Unfortunately, the human brain isn’t very good at telling the difference between a beast of prey and a board meeting – that’s what makes stress so common in today’s world.

But there’s a way to break out of this vicious cycle. In How Not to Worry, British life coach Paul McGee provides a simple, logical and effective roadmap to stress-free living. Structured around a series of small steps that make a big difference, this is the ultimate guide to getting in touch with your rational brain and putting your worries behind you.

Worries can quickly snowball out of control. The key to combating them is remembering this simple motto: “Stop before you spiral.” Worrying is part of a cycle, where the next stops are anxiety and stress.

More precisely, worrying is a mode of thinking that leads to anxiety. That, in turn, triggers your body’s survival instinct – a series of physical reactions that fall under the category of stress. These can include heart palpitations, dilated pupils and a tightened chest.

Worry, anxiety and stress form a feedback loop. Worrying is both a cause and effect of anxiety or stress, and the cycle can be triggered at any stage. Stress can lead to anxiety and worry, while anxiety can also cause worry and stress. Once you get stuck in this cycle, it starts taking its toll on your quality of life.

There are a number of physical symptoms. Stress weakens your immune system and leaves you more susceptible to illnesses, as well as decreasing your sex drive. Mentally, the cycle robs you of the valuable headspace you need to make sound decisions. To put it starkly, stress makes you stupid, as you’re constantly reacting to a threatening world rather than acting rationally.

Most importantly, you lose the ability to simply enjoy the present moment when you’re stuck in this kind of feedback loop. When you’re constantly preoccupied by worst-case scenarios, you lose your sense of motivation and creative inspiration.

What’s worrying you? Is it a performance review at work? Or making this month’s rent? Worry comes in all shapes and sizes, but the root causes are often surprisingly simple. One of the main reasons people worry is their past.

Many worriers were conditioned to be anxious during their childhoods. Take your upbringing: your parents’ endless reminders to wrap up warm during winter if you didn’t want to “freeze to death” can take their toll. There’s even evidence that worried parents can transmit stress to their babies during pregnancy!

Painful experiences are another common cause of worry. Whether it was a car accident or an abusive relationship, what happened to you in the past can shape how you deal with the world in the present.

Past experiences can often manifest themselves as hypersensitivity to potential danger.  It means that one of the first steps to conquering your worries is becoming aware of the way events trigger memories of your past.

Then there’s the fear of the unknown – one of the most powerful causes of worry. Life is unpredictable. Jobs, careers and relationships are all subject to the whims of fickle fortune. That’s what makes stability, security and the familiar so comforting. It’s also what makes questions like “How am I going to pay the rent?” or “Will I ever be successful?” so agonizing.

The unknown is worrying because it’s beyond your personal control. It’s frustrating to feel like you don’t have your destiny in your own hands and have to rely on others. Formula 1 drivers know all about this. The most stressful part of a race is the pitstop – it’s the one time they’re not truly in control. The outcome of the race suddenly depends on others doing their jobs properly. But you don’t need to be a Formula 1 driver to feel like life is one big, stressful race. Uncertainty is worrying about whatever circumstances you find yourself in.

Luckily, there’s a way out. When you get to know yourself better and ask yourself why you’re worrying, you’re much more likely to be able to put things in perspective, and that’s a great basis for tackling your worries rationally.

Check out my related post: What is the wisdom of life?

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