I stumbled across this shocking breakdown of Things We Worry About. (Sorry, it was casual reading and I didn’t record the source, but I copied the details faithfully and turned them into this nifty pie chart.)
As you can see, all but 8% of the things we spend our harried days and sleepless nights worrying about are things we cannot change or that will never happen.
I find this profoundly liberating. Try it. Look back on those times in the past when you were nearly out of your mind with worry, fairly trembling with anxiety. Did you make a list of all the things weighing on your mind? It might have looked something like this…
I (He/She) am going to lose my job.
We’ll lose the house.
We’ll have to live in the car.
The car will get repossessed.
This ulcer is really a tumor.
My kids are failing Math/English/Science/Drama/Wiffle Ball.
My kids will not be able to graduate.
My kids will live with me forever.
My husband will leave me.
My husband will stay.
No one will read my blog.
My blog will go viral.
My mother-in-law will want to come live with us.
My father-in-law will let her.
And on and on…
If you are anything like me, you are actually capable of manufacturing items to obsess over. To know that 40% of the things we fear will never happen – 40% – means that nearly half my time is wasted in fantasy.
A further 30% consists of items in the past, which I have not yet invented a time machine to go back and change, but if I did then I’d be plagued with worry about the Butterfly Effect and whether my kids would still exist when I got back to the present. But, I digress.
The 12% devoted to other people’s criticism and opinions can be tough. After all, we either have to develop the impermeability of a duck’s back or go stone deaf to avoid being affected by harsh words. But, here again is an area about which we can do nothing. As one author quipped, “What other people think about me is none of my business.” Given that the criticism is mostly untrue anyway, why bother giving it a second thought?
I admit, health problems aren’t going to go away just because we stop thinking about them. BUT, worrying about them most certainly will not erase them, and in pretty much every case will just make you feel worse. You can’t alter the state of your health (by any miraculous means) anymore than you can your shoe size. So here is an opportunity to acknowledge, accept, and let it go.
And now we’re down to just 8%. Choose carefully. Out of all the possibilities for you to worry about, make sure you pick some fun ones. And that 8% should correspond to a similar chunk of time out of a 24-hour period. I suggest you set an alarm for 3 or 4am and schedule your worry time appropriately. That way it doesn’t interfere with your working day, and you can give it your full attention in the wee hours of the night. (Sadly, I have found that this method results in my caring less about my scheduled worries than my interrupted sleep. Call it perspective.)
So there you have it. A handy chart for separating your anxieties and relegating them to the place they belong – out of your head!