Don’t worry.

From the brain’s point of view, that statement makes no sense. This is because the brain doesn’t really know what words like “Don’t” or “No” mean.  Here’s an example:

Don’t think of a pink elephant.

Weird, huh? You immediately thought of a pink elephant, didn’t you? That’s how the brain works. Here’s another example:

Don’t worry.

Just like the statement “Don’t think of a pink elephant” leads you to think of a pink elephant, the statement “Don’t worry” leads you to think about worry. Words like “don’t” or “no” or “never” are often not effective, and actually have the opposite effect. When you tell yourself, “Don’t worry,” what you really hear is, “worry.”

You can’t get rid of a thought by thinking “I won’t think this thought.” The more you try not to think about a pink elephant, the more you end up thinking about that pink elephant.The more you try to get away, the more you are chased.

So, this is what you can do instead. Be still and add mindfulness. Notice the thought without running from it or chasing it. If your feel worried, notice, “Oh, this is worry.” Notice if you are worried about being worried. Notice how attempts to make the thought or emotion go away only intensify and solidify it. Be curious. “What is this worry?” “What does this worry feel like?” “What does this worry push me to do?” “Is this worry new or familiar?” “How do I choose to respond to this worry?”

When you are willing to be still, mindful,  and curious, your entire relationship with worry begins to shift and open up.  Go ahead, try it out!

– Dan

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Filed under Anxiety and Fear

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