Negative thoughts keep us stagnant and paralyzed against the natural flow of the world. They are the thoughts that sneak in after a positive thought and say “but on the other hand…” or they creep up on us when we are having a bad day and make us feel discouraged that we may never have a good day again.
They keep us in a place of fear; a place where we are unable to fully explore ourselves and life’s possibilities. But what happens when we really need to take worries into account? How do we find the right places to flourish, or the right steps to take in life, if we do not look at all sides of the situation; worries included? How do we discern between helpful worries that lead us to where we need to be, and unhelpful fears and anxieties that keep us looping in the same place?
Let’s take a look at some fears and see if they are helpful or hurtful.
“I’m worried that my boyfriend/girlfriend will go to the party dressed like a bum…and all my professional friends will be there.”
This is a worry that is unhelpful. Whenever we are dealing with worries about judgments from others, we always have to let go of this idea that we can have control over what others think about us. No matter how hard we try there will always be some people who will judge, and the best thing to do is to live your life the way you feel most authentic, and ignore anyone who feels they need to change you.
Another thing that makes this an unhelpful worry is because it concerns the actions of another, which we have no responsibility over. The best thing to quell your anxieties in this situation is to focus on the love you have for your significant other, and this love will allow you to leave them the space to be themselves, no matter how they decide to dress.
“I’m worried because my boyfriend/girlfriend is not treating our friend with respect.”
This is a helpful worry, in a way that you don’t want to be around someone who’s going to treat another with disrespect. But again, you don’t have control over another’s actions. The best thing to do in this case is to talk to your loved one and see if this is something that they were aware of and if it’s something they desire to work on.
“I’m worried because I need to find a new job, and if I don’t find it soon I won’t be able to pay my rent.”
This one’s tricky because it is a valid worry, but the worrying itself is not helpful. The best thing to do in this situation is to practice staying as calm and stress-free as possible. The more calm you are, the more you can focus on motivating yourself to do what you need to do, in order to deal with the situation at hand.
“I’m worried that I’ll die before I get a chance to accomplish everything I want to accomplish.”
This is the most unhelpful kind of worry. The fear of getting hurt or dying is a big fear that people are walking around with, and people become paralyzed for fear that they will encounter something unpleasant or painful. Unfortunately, we have no control over certain things that may happen to us. So again, this is a worry to let go of. Just practice being centered and calm, and live the best life that you can, and the rest is out of your hands.
“I’m afraid that the people I love will abandon me.”
This thought comes from a negative belief system that has seeped into our consciousness from childhood or past trauma. It is usually an irrational fear that we can’t explain, but these thoughts have the danger of controlling a lot of what we do and worry about. These negative thoughts need to be examined and worked through in order to heal (whether by ourselves, good friends, or a therapist).
Now that we’re familiar with the different kinds of fears (and I’m sure there are plenty more) we can decide what to do depending on if it is a constructive fear or not.
How to deal with unhelpful fears:
These fears are only there to drag you down. They do not come with a helpful message, only the intention of keeping you paralyzed. They need to be quelled or dealt with in a healthy way, in order to make them go away. Here are a few helpful tips for taking care of unhelpful fears:
1) Acknowledge that it is an unhelpful fear.
2) Take a few deep breaths or practice any sort of relaxing exercise, whether it be yoga, singing, meditating, or going for a walk.
3) Write down your fears. And for every fear, write down two oppositions to it, or reasons why you should put the worry aside. (ex. “Worrying about judgment is not helpful because I have no control over what people will think of me”, or “This worry will not help me deal with the situation at hand, so it’s best to deal with the practicalities so that I can feel better.”)
4) Write down all your fears. Make sure that you read them and acknowledge that they are all unhelpful and holding you back. Next, throw out the paper, burn it, rip it, whatever makes you feel that they are now nonexistent.
5) Ask for help. Whether from a loved one or higher power, it’s always important to have someone you trust to help you out in a hard time.
Constructive fears are easy to deal with once you recognize them. They are there to tell you something or point out something that needs to be changed. Once you have received the message that your worry has come to tell you, you no longer need to spend any more time worrying. The next step is action:
1) Acknowledge that you have the power to change a bad situation.
2) Work to change it. Whether it’s talking to the person involved with the worry, or working your butt off to find the ideal situation, know that this is something you can deal with.
3) Once you have a plan of action, check back with yourself and feel if you are still worrying. If so, then the worry has become an unhelpful worry and you should treat it as such.
Sometimes worrying comes from having too much on our plate at once; when this is the case it’s a great exercise to see all your worries in front of you in an organized manner. Draw out a spiderweb of all your worries. Put yourself in the center, label it “Me” or “My Worries”, then write all your worries spider-webbing out from your center. Next, label them with numbers in the order of importance, or the best order to deal with them. You can also label them “helpful worry” or “non-helpful worry”. This game plan allows you to deal with things in a stress-free and organized way.