I am a chronic worrier. Nearly every day I feel like I am unwillingly suffocated by blankets of sudden panic. It festers my mind and seems to disable all of my current thought and rationality.
It can decide any topic for me. One day it’s about money and whether i’ll have enough in my lifetime, the next it’s about whether I will be able to land a decent job and be successful in the future. I worry about if i’ll be happy.
The only way I can seem to shove it off is if I am able to answer every single worry, usually with some solid evidence that these future things WILL definitely be achieved. It’s like a door-to-door salesperson that needs adequate assurance that you will definitely consider their product/service before they leave you be. It’s that hunger for certainty in an uncertain situation.
Worrying about one’s future can feel like such a lonely business. On the outside, many people look as if they have everything together, while on the inside, panic manifests inside you and it feels like you, alone, are spiralling out of control. The first thing to note is that you really are not alone:
- 85% of UK adults report regular stress and worry (Forth, 2018).
- 18-24 year olds in the UK suffer the most from worries about their future (Forth, 2018).
Why do we worry?
If we look back in history, worrying in humans has developed over time. In Prehistoric Ages, humans lived their life on a day-to-day basis and generally had very few plans that followed the end of that current day. However, as society developed agriculturally, we were introduced to property and ownership, economic means and more structures in place for our lives. Today, many of our goals and plans are based in the future, but we are rarely granted with the level of certainty that we as humans feel comfortable with. It is a nature within us to be assured of no future woes or threats.
While by nature we worry, we seem to find even more ways to make it harder for ourselves. I feel like we as a society are guilty of putting pressure and instilling concerns about the future on other people, particularly younger generations. House prices are spiralling out of control, yet many parents have been known to put pressure on their children to move out and prove themselves ‘worthy’ and ‘independent’. The job market is becoming increasingly competitive, yet I have heard multiple people comment on the ‘laziness’ of younger people who struggle to find employment.
On one side there’s an immense amount of pressure and expectations, on the other, there’s a really tough journey to match this criteria that is put on people.
How it negatively impacts our lives
Though I worry all the time, I have never seen the usefulness of its severity. It’s an unwelcome intruder that can easily extract my peaceful and positive mood and replace it with a sense of dread and low self-esteem.
When I was at University, I found my anxiety for future events almost debilitating. I would worry about two things in particular: if I would do well in my assignments and whether I would be able to find a successful place in the working world. None of which were ever solved by worrying. In fact, it was always a deterrent towards my achieving these two goals. It only took up my valuable time and energy.
The worst part about future worries is that it steals the present away from you. Most concerns never turn out to be as bad as we cooked them up to be, and all we’re left with is regret for letting it manifest itself into the opportunities we had for peace and happiness.
My anxiety did not contribute towards me successfully completing my degree; it did not land me employment post-graduation. Living in the present did. Focusing on the plan and aims of the current day was what gave me the productive attitude that is vital for achieving.
I lost many moments of happiness that University could have given me due to worrying. I even worried extensively about being happy, both for then and in the future, which is quite ironic, when you think about it.
How can we stop/help it?
I am by no means a model example to go by. I continuously struggle to keep my anxiety for the future under control. However, these are some of the strategies that I have found to have helped me in the past, and will continue to practise.
1. Consider the reality.
If we have all learned one thing about future worries, it is that it can be completely irrational. When you find yourself in a frenzy, categorise it into either: a serious, life-risking threat, or a trivial threat. I usually find that asking myself questions about the outcome of something negative can aid me into categorising it. Really question and challenge what bad can really come from a situation that you’re worrying about.
Bear these facts in mind:
- 40% of things people worry about never occur at all (The Essence of Success by Earl Nightingale).
- Only 8% of our worries are completely legitimate and considered worth the concern (Ibid).
I can’t stress this one enough. I feel like there’s a self-image ideal of appearing as if you have your life and mental health together. But the moment you confide in a friend or relative, you’ll probably discover that your worries are so widely felt and understood by others. Not only will it be comforting to find that you are far from alone, but it will set you up for the type of support you need.
We need to stop considering ourselves in a competition to appear adequate next to the rest of society, and to start confiding in and supporting each other on our own unique journeys.
3. Plan for the present
Consider to yourself what really needs to be done on the present day. If you’re worried about affording a house in the next five years, that can hardly be achieved in one sitting, in one day. It’s a process that will benefit far more from productive days than time-consuming worry-sessions.
Make a list of the tasks and goals you wish to achieve in one day and reward yourself for completing them. Break bigger goals down into small, daily steps. The next day’s list and stresses don’t need to be considered until that day arrives. If you can occupy your mind and focus on present issues and goals, it may help to keep anxiety for the future on a lower scale. If we should learn one thing from our Prehistoric ancestors, this is it.