(Originally published November 23, 2016, Updated August 17, 2018)
Not only do I have expertise in ADHD and productivity, but I also have a PhD in worrying. At least I would have one by now if it were available. How about you? Do you worry more than you would like? Since I do, I’ve spent a fair amount of time exploring strategies for worrying less.
Not that I’d want to get rid of all worrying. Because there is definitely an upside to having some worry. That’s right. A little bit of worry is a good thing. Because, if there’s something that truly needs your attention, worrying can be the signal that alerts you to this. Of course, this is only useful if it leads you to act when necessary.
However, worrying, like any other emotion, just lets you know that something is off in your internal world.
The downside to worrying is when it eats up your time and energy and there is nothing you can do to change the situation. At least not in the moment. As David Carbonell, author of The Worry Trick, points out, in these instances your brain is tricking you into thinking that there is danger. But, really, all you are thinking about is:
That’s right, there is nothing in your external world that you can change right now. But your brain is tricking you into thinking there is danger. So, you begin playing a game of pretend that might sound like this. “What if I lost my job and didn’t have any money to pay the mortgage? Then what if I lost my house? Would my spouse leave me?!”
And it’s exhausting! If worrying is getting in the way of your day-to-day activities and fully participating in your life, then it’s time to learn how to effectively address it. So, let’s get on with it.
The Relationship Between ADHD and Worrying
While we all worry, ADHD adults may be more prone to get stuck in unproductive worrying.
In part, this can be a result of the challenge with transitions. That is, you may have a difficult time switching gears. So, like a needle stuck on a record (remember those?), the worry keeps on playing over and over in your head. This can make the grove — worry — more and more pronounced.
Dr. Charles Parker attributes this inability to transition to unmanageable cognitive abundance as a result of problems with working memory associated with ADHD. When this happens you can get stuck in your worry to the degree you are unable to focus and attend to your intentions. Because you are engaged in counterproductive excessive thinking.
Of course, emotional regulation challenges can also contribute to your tendency to worry needlessly. Because, when you don’t know how to work with your emotions effectively, they can become magnified. As a result, you may worry too much or too long about even small things. This includes feeling wounded or taking offense at perceived slights.
But you can’t afford to rent out this valuable real estate in your head to worrying. There is too much you want to accomplish, right? Following the steps below can help you to stop allowing worry to hijack your brain.
#1: Figure Out If You Can Do Something About Your Worry
Think about something you are worrying about right now. Okay, got it? Are you deep into a game of pretend? That is, are you imagining what-if scenarios, such as the one I mentioned above? If you are, you’ll want to figure out if there’s anything you can do about it.
Because, if you can take action to affect a positive change, you might be able to mitigate some of your worries. To figure this out take this two-part test suggested by the Worry Trick’s author, David Carbonell.
- Is there a problem that exists now in the external world around you?
- If there is, can you do something to change it now?
If you answered yes to both questions, then you should go and do something about it now!:)
#2: How to Respond Effectively to Your Worries
But what if you can’t do anything?
If you are worrying more than you want and there is nothing you can do, the problem is not the amount of worry. Rather, the problem is the way you respond to these worrisome thoughts.
You may give them more airtime than they deserve by researching and/or consulting experts or friends and family. And the more attention you give them the bigger they grow, right? But, because there is no definitive answer to your questions of “what if,” you never get the reassurance you are seeking. So, you keep worrying.
And, if you fear having these worrisome thoughts, you may try to get rid of them. You may do this by trying to stop them, using prescription meds or drugs and alcohol. Alternatively, you may avoid situations that trigger the worry. Maybe you distract yourself by engaging in other activities. But, the more you resist your worries the greater the hold they have on you!
As counterintuitive as it may sound, the best way to respond to your worries is to make friends with them. Stop fearing your thoughts. That’s right. Invite them in for a cup of tea. They won’t bite. They’re just thoughts, feelings and sensations, after all. While not pleasant, you’re not in danger, really.
So, so take the first step in dealing with your worries by acknowledging and accepting them.
#3: When Acceptance Is the Best Way to Address Your Worries
It seems obvious, if you have no control over changing a situation, acceptance is best, right?
But you may also decide you don’t want to spend the time or energy necessary to change a situation. Of course, choosing to accept a situation does not mean you like it or want it to be that way. You are just choosing not to use your time and energy to try to make it different because you have other priorities.
For example, rather than trying to change someone, you may choose to accept them with their flaws and limitations. After all, we all have them, right? Accepting others as they are, rather than wanting them to be different, might improve your relationships. And save you time and energy fighting what is.
Another example where acceptance might be the best antidote is when you are worrying about past choices. You can’t change the past, of course. But you can practice compassion by reminding yourself you made the best decision you could at the time. And you can decide to make different choices going forward.
As you practice using acceptance as a means of addressing your particular worries, you might want to use this adapted version of the Serenity Prayer from Dr. Hallowell:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
The insight to prioritize wisely what I want to change;
The patience to resist trying to control everything I could, had I the energy and time;
The courage and skill to change the things I have chosen to change;
And the wisdom to know the differences among all these.
What situations are you worrying about, but either can’t change or choose not to try to change because it is not worth your time and energy? Ready to practice acceptance?
#4: Humor and Embrace Your Worries
Whether you choose to seek out a solution for your worries or not, you can be more at peace today. One way to do this is by using some of the suggestions by Worry Trick’s David Carbonell and Barry McDonagh, author of Dare.
Humor your worries by writing a haiku, singing a song or making up a story. For example, on occasion, I think, “What if I write a bad article?” I could humor this worry with, “Yes, and people will email me with their critiques. Then they’ll probably write an op-ed piece in the New York Times about what a quack I am. Eventually, my name will end up in the headlines and I’ll be exposed.”
Craft a sentence of a maximum of 25 words about your worry. And then repeat it in front of a mirror. Here’s mine, “What if I write a bad article, get criticized, never get another client again, my business tanks and I can’t pay my mortgage?”
Run toward it and tell it, “Whatever, bring it on! I got this.”
While the above strategies may seem counterintuitive, they really work. The more you accept and play with your worries the smaller they will become. Curious to learn more? Check out Carbonell and McDonagh’s books for a deeper dive into how to do this.
Are you worrying about a problem that you want to try to solve? In the next post, I’ll look at how you can put your worry to work by taking on a solution-focused approach.