How not to worry

Sleep is a central human need, and a key part of reducing worry. Photo by Lux Graves on Unsplash

Worry is anticipation of something unwanted in the future. When we worry, our mind leaves the present time and place. There is usually a loss involved. Common worries are money, work, relationships, and health. In a worried state, we cannot enjoy the resources we have, because we are thinking of ways we might be deprived of what we have.

Here are five ways to reduce worry.

#1 – Sleep and exercise. Without sleep, we tend to have a shorter fuse, suffer impaired thinking, and find it harder to leave obsessive thoughts behind. We are like a car driving without suspension, and we feel all the bumps of life. Sleep makes us patient, clear-thinking, and flexible-thinking. Exercise, too, tends to increase our tolerance, partly by increasing the flow of endorphins.

#2 – Focus on others. Worry is often a self-focused activity. Usually, we are worried about something close to us, like our own finances, job, relationships or health. We are not so concerned about other people. Other-focus cancels out this obsessive self-concern.

#3 – Talk about it. I am consistently amazed at how much relief it gives my counselling clients to be able to talk confidentially about anything they like. Sharing has a positive effect in itself, because we stop ‘bottling it all up’, and release the pressure. Just make sure you find a sympathetic ear, someone who is able to hear you and make space for your concerns.

#4 – Diarise. If something is bothering you, scheduling a time to deal with it can be helpful. It’s a form of delegation – to you in the future. For instance, if you are concerned about your health, then make a doctor’s appointment, rather than just leaving yourself to ruminate. If it is something you have been putting off, diarise a simple first step.

#5 – Retrain your mind. Natural though it is, worry is a matter of perspective. Worry depends on maintaining a couple of illusions. Specifically, our worry depends on us believing (a) that we are more important than others, and (b) that the universe is not unfolding as it should. Meditation on (a) compassion and (b) wisdom releases the grip of these two false assumptions, and allows us to care for others, and accept our universe.


Worry is anticipated future loss.

When we worry, we:

  1. fail to sleep or exercise
  2. become self-obsessed
  3. bottle things up
  4. fail to act through fear
  5. don’t take time for self-care

We can reduce worry by doing the opposite, i.e.:

  1. getting sleep and exercise
  2. focusing outwards
  3. talking
  4. using a diary wisely
  5. meditating on compassion and wisdom

When you’re going through worry, the above doesn’t feel easy. But there are always small changes we can make. It is more about gradual change than it is about radical change. Even tackling one of the above five things is a beginning.