It’s surprising how many hours we spend in a day worrying about concerns trivial in nature. These concerns range from getting to work on time when the roads are under construction, to failing to choose between soup and salad, to dying cold and alone, with no one around to hold your hand as you depart from this earth. If you’re anyone like me, your worries are of existential proportions: what if I’m still living with my parents when I’m forty years old? What if I never find true love? What if I’m diagnosed with a terminal disease tomorrow, and how will I cope with it? While such worries may or may not come true, ruminating on them certainly doesn’t help. Therefore, I have devised three tips in order of their importance that I believe are instrumental in reducing feelings of worry and fear, especially for those of us who are constantly apprehensive about an uncertain future.
Tip #1: Refrain from thinking in the subjunctive too much.
The subjunctive is a mood tense we use in language to describe doubts, demands, wishes, uncertainties, and desires. Two examples of subjunctive thoughts are “I don’t think I will ever be happy” and “I doubt that I will do well on this exam.” The first tip I would offer for reducing worry is to omit these types of thoughts from your mind by a considerable degree, as they are neither an accurate depiction nor reflection of reality and, like the fears and worries they precipitate, can be quite insidious if left unchecked. If you happen to notice a subjunctive thought passing through your mind, try to convert it into something more objective and less emotional. For example, you might be tempted to convert the thought, “I don’t think I will ever be happy” into “Everyone is equally capable of achieving happiness, and I am by no means an exception to this rule.”
Tip #2: Convince yourself that you have nothing to lose.
A couple of months ago, I conducted a little thought experiment by applying to Disc Replay and seeing if I would get called in for an interview. I had no intention of leaving my current job to work at a place where I would get paid $4 fewer, but I wanted to see if my 5+ years of experience in working retail and one-year-long experience of running a personal blog would increase my chances of landing a job interview, regardless of the institution I applied to. Not surprisingly, Disc Replay called and asked if I could come in to answer a few questions. There were nine candidates up for a position—only one would get the job.
Once there, I was instructed to fill out a form while waiting my turn to be interviewed. On the form was a series of questions testing my proficiency in alphabetization and solving basic math problems. One question in particular asked me to calculate the difference left over from a transaction with a customer and add to it a 20 percent sales tax. Under normal circumstances, this question would have thrown me completely off guard, but in that moment I couldn’t care less about getting the answer right because I wasn’t going to accept the job anyway. I therefore guessed incorrectly on the question, turned in the form, and stepped up to the interview with total confidence. By virtue of that, it went smoothly.
The point I’m trying to make here is that you can function a lot more effectively in life when the stakes in the game aren’t just lowered, but nonexistent. If I had any semblance of emotional investment in landing the job, I would have worried about answering that math question incorrectly so much that I compromised the interview process, and projected auroras of inadequacy and ineptitude to the manager and guaranteed that he wouldn’t hire me. Think of this tip along the lines of approaching an attractive girl at a bar with hopes of getting rejected by her to win a bet that you made with your best friend: if she says no, you just won $100. If she says yes, you walk away with a phone number. It’s a win-win.
It turns out that faking it until you make it works.
Tip #3: Live by the mantra, “You are not your thoughts. Only your actions.”
Part of why people see suicide as a viable option is because they’ve listened to that little voice inside their heads that constantly tells them they’re no good, and heeded its criticisms. Understand that all that voice consists of is transient and relatively insignificant thoughts—some conducive to survival and others not so much—and that the only way those thoughts will ever have any basis in reality is by acting upon them. Of course, you can tell yourself that you’re no good all you want, but so long as you strive to be any good, those thoughts of worthlessness, dejection, and self-hate will remain but a fictional story you tell yourself congruent with negative past experiences and attuned to your biases.
And there you have it—three tips for reducing fear and worry. Do you think any of them will prove useful in cleaning up the anxious mess that you are?