How to Break the Worry Habit

A mom and toddler stopped every few feet on their walk to look at a bug, a sprout, a rock … Nothing escaped the little girl’s gaze. A woman coming along the path asked the mother, “Don’t you get tired of stopping and bending down so often?” “Not at all,” the mom smiled. “I brought her into this world; the least I can do is let her show it to me.”

Look closely. You’ll find a key to successfully battling worry.

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A lot of people are garden-variety worriers. They have occasional fear (an intense reaction to a legitimate, present danger) or anxiety (an intense reaction to a perceived, anticipated, or future danger). And it usually comes down to worrying about what could happen.

The first step to overcome this type of worry? Realize it’s a habit best summed up in the phrase, What if? For example, What if my husband loses his job? What if the doctor’s report is bad?

The problem with what if thinking is that it pulls us away from the present (reality) and into the future (imagination). Present-tense fear says, The house is burning! Run! But future-oriented worry says, What if the house starts to burn tonight when we’re all asleep? Future-oriented worry can be paralyzing because our mind gets stuck on things that haven’t yet happened — and might never happen.

How can you break this habit? Remind yourself that you can only live in the present, and find ways to focus on what’s right now. Try putting the questions below on a notecard or in your phone for easy access and ask yourself:

  • What are five colors I see right now?
  • What are five sounds I hear right now?
  • What are five things I feel right now (not emotions, but sensations like “the wind on my face”)?
  • What do I need to do or think about right now?

When you wake up, go over the questions. After naming colors, sounds, and sensations, ask yourself what you need to do the moment your feet hit the floor. Put on your robe? Make the coffee? Go do that one thing. Don’t try to handle the rest of the day. Don’t get sucked into what if thinking. Just make the coffee.

Refer to the questions as you go about your day. Practice staying in the moment instead of worrying about tomorrow. Ask God to help you trust His love and provision and rest in His peace. It might not come easily at first, but hang in there.

For more ideas, grab a copy of Max Lucado’s booklet Less Fret, More Faith: An 11-Week Action Plan to Overcome Anxiety,and read Lee Strobel’s article “The Antidote to Worry.”

NOTE: General worry is different from clinical anxiety. Reach out for professional help if you have symptoms such as trembling, restlessness, sleep problems, fatigue, anger, and depression — or if you have panic (severe overwhelm by fear or anxiety), or obsessive thoughts (persistent, often unwanted thoughts that are hard to control).