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Working with Worry

Worry, unlike anxiety, which is often free floating, usually has an object.  There is something in particular you worry about.  If you are avid worrier, than there are many "somethings" that you worry about.  Worry is a tense state of mild fear usually accompanied by obsessive thinking and dire images of the future.  

Mostly, worry is a habit of heart, body, and mind.  But sometimes worry serves its true purpose and brings your attention to needs in a constructive way.  For example, constructive worry about safety might have you put tire chains in your car before going on trip through the mountains.  When you follow your worry to the underlying universal need, you can check in with that need and your actions to meet it.  You can take action to meet or tend to the need and worry dissipates.

At other times when worry is a habit or when you don't have ample agency to influence a situation (e.g., weather, politics, illness, your mom's health decisions, etc.), you need some way to quickly and effectively refocus your attention.  Let's look at three.


When worrying about the well-being of others, your need is clear - you have a need to contribute.  The most accessible contribution to another in any given moment is a prayer.  Whether you invoke a higher power or simply allow yourself to connect with your love and deepest wish for them, you have effectively interrupted worry and shifted yourself into a more expansive and resourced state.  It is from this place that you can truly be a contribution.


When worrying about circumstances or how events are unfolding, you can interrupt the worry by shifting your focus to the underlying need.  For example, let's imagine you are in graduate school and you are worrying about getting all of your work done.  You ask yourself to pause and connect with why you are bothering with graduate school in the first place.  Is it about needs for discovery, learning, security, contribution, or belonging?  Whatever your answer is, take the time to let that need rest in your attention and invite examples of how that need has been met into your awareness.  Let the experience of the need being met come alive in your body, heart, and mind.  This is called accessing the energy of the need.


The practice of becoming a compassionate witness to worry is most easily accessed during meditation.  Once you have engaged this practice many times during meditation you will be able to access it in daily life.  Set your intention to watch for worry during meditation.  When it comes up immediately welcome it and get very curious.  Begin noticing and naming whatever is most obvious and then move to the more subtle aspects.  If you are noticing and naming the aspects of worry continuously, you will interrupt the habitual spinning of worry filled stories.  Here are some aspects of worry to get curious about:

  • The objects or story connected to worry

  • Location of worry in your body

  • Images that go with worry

  • The body sensations associated with worry

  • Impulses

  • Other associated emotions

When you consistently catch worry as it arises and engage your compassionate witness, you are interrupting the habit of it and, with practice, it will come up less and less often.

Worry is a valid emotion like any other.  Like any emotion, its true purpose is to bring your attention to life giving needs.  It is not meant to inspire imaginary stories of the future and predictions of doom.  When you follow emotion to the need, you can become free; free of obsessive thinking and free to take wise and skillful action to contribute to life.


Choose one of the three practices above to engage in the next time worry comes up.

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