Have you heard this expression attributed to Mark Twain? "Worrying is like paying a debt you don't owe."
How much time have you wasted worrying about something that never happened, or that happened but wasn't nearly as bad as you feared it would be? Or you might spend time worrying about the wrong things, and while your attention is distracted, another problem creeps in. But other times, the worry pays off, because the time you've spent preparing for something gives you the tools and strategies you need to make good choices when faced with a situation.
Of course I've experienced all these scenarios. That's why I really appreciate the advice I learned from Gretchen Rubin, to schedule time to worry.
Scheduling time to worry doesn't mean not to worry at all. Rather, it puts the worry in the appropriate time and place and frees your brain for other things. Worried about what your kids will do after graduating high school? Maybe start thinking about that when they're in 10th grade, not 3rd. (This is real advice I've given to real people.) Worried about how you'll tell your spouse you didn't get the promotion? Think about that on your long drive home, not while you're meeting with your boss about it. Worried about what happened to your stocks over the weekend? Wait until you're at your computer with access to your portfolio. They might have done better than you fear.
The advice to schedule time to worry came in handy on our summer vacation. I saw a headline about the intense eclipse-related traffic in Oregon. The feeling of uncertainty and overwhelm hit me hard. We weren’t headed to Oregon but we were headed to a part of Kentucky designated as “Eclipseville” so we knew we were headed into traffic. I typically do absolutely anything in my power to avoid big crowds, but we had been planning this vacation for 7 months because seeing the eclipse in totality was one of my husband's life goals. Each time I thought about the logistics of the trip I got a little stressed, but I had been able to address it by making specific plans. This headline started to send me down the worry path once again. But it was Friday, and the eclipse was Monday (and we weren’t even traveling into Kentucky until Sunday). So I said to my husband, “Alright, I won’t worry about that now. I’ll wait until tomorrow night.”
And as is often the case in these situations, by the time I got to Saturday night, I wasn't nearly as worried about our Sunday travel. When you delay your worry, sometimes when the scheduled worry time comes up, you've already figured out a solution or the situation has resolved itself, so you don't need to waste any more time or energy on it.
Scheduling time to worry doesn't mean forgetting about all your troubles. It's just scheduling the right time to focus on them, when you can do something about them, and when you can give them your full attention. So next time a worry crops up, channel your inner Scarlett O'Hara and say, "I'll think about it tomorrow." Unless of course, it doesn't need to be thought about till much farther in the future!