Worried About Worrying

Susan Piver gives advice on working with a mind that can’t stop working over every detail.

Susan Piver
7 September 2018
© Kelly Knox / Stocksy United

Question: I am a constant worrier. I replay every event, stress about any little mistake I make, and often fear I haven’t done a good enough job, even when I have done my very best. How do I work on this?

Answer: Anxiety is so tricky. The nature of this trickiness is revealed by two words in your question: work on. “Working on” anxiety is akin to “trying to” relax. They just don’t go together. The key is to find ways to work with anxiety. And this means—and I know it is difficult— practicing relaxation.

There are a variety of ways you can do this, from standard practices of relaxation (taking a walk, going to the movies, getting away from it all) to something more radical—allowing yourself to relax with the anxiety by allowing yourself to feel it. I know that doesn’t sound like fun. It isn’t. But when you try to bargain or beat your way out of such situations, they only become more deeply entrenched. It’s a trap.

Return to the felt sense of the worry. Get to know it.

Instead, you could sit down and invite the anxiety into the room. That means the feeling of the anxiety, not the story behind it. This difference is critical. The feeling is usually located in your body. Maybe your shoulders feel hunched, your tummy hurts, or your forehead tightens. Wherever it is for you, allow your attention to rest on it.

When the story tries to hijack the situation (I am so messed up, if only I hadn’t said this, done that, I’ll never be successful/happy/proud/funny/smart), it is very important to let that go. Return to the felt sense of the worry. Feel the texture. Get to know it. In this way, you establish some agency within the situation rather than falling victim to it.

Spend a minute or two (or longer if you like) extending the hand of friendship to your inner worrier rather than always trying to fight them off. Good luck! You can do it!


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Susan Piver

Susan Piver

Susan Piver is a Buddhist teacher and the New York Times bestselling author of many books, including The Wisdom of a Broken Heart and Start Here Now: An Open-Hearted Guide to the Path and Practice of Meditation. Her latest is The Four Noble Truths of Love: Buddhist Wisdom for Modern Relationships. She is founder of The Open Heart Project, an international online meditation community.