Want to get rid of dread? Banish worry

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Estimated reading time: 12 minutes

Worriers are often filled with dread all day. Sometimes it’s just an uneasy sense that something bad is going to happen. But often they can’t put their finger on exactly what’s worrying them. Others churn over their fears from the moment they wake till they go to bed. Learn how to train your brain to get rid of dread and worry.

Scattered attention

Anyone who’s a worrier knows how dread takes centre stage in your thoughts. It’s hard to focus on anything else. You shuffle from task to task, and never seem to finish anything. That leads to more worries about what could go wrong through not being organised. 

Mental exhaustion

For worriers, life seems a constant battle against looming disasters. In the end, you fall back on the only strategy you know – making sure these disasters never happen.

Need to worry about everything

The problem is, this means worriers always have to be on guard. They need to watch out for any problem that could ever happen. So they feel compelled to worry about all the “what-ifs,” big and small.

And they’re so consumed with worries they don’t even question what they’re doing.

You may think you’re the only one who thinks like this. But you’re not. You’d be surprised how many people are worriers. They just hide it well.

Read on to learn how to get rid of dread and worry, and regain your life.

1 Acceptance of uncertainty

One of the most important things you can do is cultivate an acceptance of uncertainty.

This means not expecting to know exactly what’s going to happen and when – or if – at all. It’s going with the flow, and accepting what happens without getting agitated or panicky. Then working to manage what happens as best you can.

For worriers, this probably sounds like a dream.

But people who don’t worry don’t seem to dread uncertainty the way that worriers do.

Non-worriers don’t spend their lives worrying about “what ifs.” They know that sometimes, life takes you by surprise.

And although they may not particularly like problems popping up, they know that that’s just the way it is. They don’t spend their lives dreading the next thing that might go wrong.

They accept that sometimes, you don’t have much option but to accept the situation. This is especially true when outside factors suddenly change, as in the COVID pandemic.

However, it’s also true for smaller issues, like someone scratching your car, or your bus being late in the morning.

Of course, people who don’t worry can still can be annoyed, angry or worried. But they seem to move through their emotions more quickly.

There’s no point in fighting or arguing or bemoaning the situation. It’s already happened. And it’s probably not as bad as you think anyway.

The most sensible thing is to focus on solving the problem.

So non-worriers trust that even if life is uncertain, they’ll get through with a bit of strategic planning.

But if you’re filled with dread all day, you fear that you’ll “fall to pieces,” because life is so unpredictable. 

2 Get rid of unrealistic expectations

Part of this may be related to some unrealistic expectations that worriers have.

They’d prefer that nothing ever went wrong, so they’d never have to tolerate all that bother and inconvenience.

Because behind their fears they won’t cope are other fears: that they’ll lose control, or become intensely stressed, or will break down.

What these statements mean isn’t really clear, and so they’re even more scary because of their vagueness.

The trouble is, once you expect life to be free of problems, you start to see normal hassles of day-to-day living as dreadful.

And you begin to think you should be able to stop these issues from happening at all.

In addition, if you can’t fix everything that does go wrong, you feel it’s all your fault, and you’ve let everyone down.

So how realistic is it to want life to be perfect?

Unfortunately, as most of us know, it’s not realistic at all. 

Tendency to chaos

Studies in physics have shown that the universe tends towards disorder. So our lives are basically spent trying to thwart this disorder.

That’s simple reality. Life is messy. We expend lots of energy keeping things running smoothly:

picking up stuff

reorganising

fixing things that have broken

finding things that we’ve lost. 

And everyone has these sorts of hassles, all the time. Once you sort out one hassle, another pops up. 

So that’s an important lesson for worriers.

When something goes wrong, rather than telling yourself this is terrible, tell yourself that this is just life happening. And once you get used to the new situation, you’ll deal with it.

You’ve dealt with lots of difficult things in the past, and you can deal with this too.

For people who don’t worry, hassles are usually just that – hassles. They’re not tragedies.

Sure, they take time and effort to sort out. But mostly you can predict they’re going to happen at some stage. So you can make a plan to deal with them when they happen.

But often, they’re not worth worrying about too much in advance.

We’re not perfect

Of course, bigger problems are a bit harder to fix first time round. Things take longer than we expect, or we don’t have the right skills or resources.

And that can be frustrating and annoying for anyone. Even non-worriers often have to try a few different solutions. 

But they usually get there in the end. It might not be perfect, but it’ll do. And that’s the way life is.

Most of us learn to expect it these hassles.

So how can worriers get rid of dread, and worry less about what might happen? How can they become a little more resilient?

3 Most of the time it turns out OK

Two things that most worriers don’t realise are that:

1 Most of the time, you’ll probably cope better than you expect.

It may take longer than you’d prefer, but you’ll manage eventually. You’ve overcome difficulties in the past, and can do so again. It’s annoying to have to do so, but that’s the way it is.

2 Most bad things you think will happen never actually happen. Or if bad things do happen, they’re usually not as bad as you expect.

For instance, you dread leaving your workplace for a better job.

Your work colleagues have relied on you for years to smooth things over with an intimidating boss. You worry now that they’ll accuse you of deserting them to the mercies of the boss. So you put off going for months, or even years.

Finally you gather your courage and announce you’re moving on. To your surprise, most people congratulate you on your new job. They give you a great send-off, and organise a catch-up in a month’s time. Of course, they all joke about how they’ll never cope with the boss now.

But all your worry and dread was for nothing. The sad thing is, it stopped you improving your work position. But you didn’t ever question or challenge your fears.

4 Predictions are only guesses

Your worries are your predictions of what could go wrong in the future. Sometimes, if they’re based on proven evidence, they may be quite accurate.

However, if they’re only based on vague feelings of alarm, they may be quite wrong. Then, you’re just making assumptions with no basis in fact. In other words, they’re really no better than wild guesses.

Human beings generally are very bad at making predictions about the future. But worriers are even worse than others. So to get rid of dread and worry, you need to see reality more clearly. 

5 Worriers view predictions as truth

The problem is, worriers treat their predictions as being certain to happen.

They confuse guesswork with reality.

It’s as if their brain says, “If I can imagine something bad happening, it will happen.” The strength of their dread convinces them that their worries are true.

But being filled with dread all day doesn’t mean your thoughts and feelings are right.

You need a reality check for your brain.

6 Check reality

Worriers need to track how many of their worries come true in reality. Otherwise, they forget or overlook all the times that their worries don’t happen.

Part of the reason is, as soon as one worry disappears, another takes its place. Worriers are so busy worrying about the new issue, they don’t notice the previous worry didn’t happen.

And they only remember the bad things that happen. So the neutral or good things slip out of their memories unless they write them down.

Therefore, most worriers don’t notice that most of their worries never come true.

But they can’t check the reality because:

1 they don’t write down their worries and
2 they don’t keep a record of which ones actually happen

So it’s too easy to leap to the wrong conclusion that all their worries come true. 

Making faulty conclusions

However, say that one particular worry out of hundreds does happen. Worriers will pounce and say, “See! Bad things do happen. I was right to worry. I’d better keep worrying.”

They see that one particular worry coming true as justifying all their worry about everything else. So the worry habit becomes reinforced in their minds as being helpful.

But they forget all the other worries that never happened, and continue to dread the future.

If you want to see how useless worry truly is, you need to record what really happens.

Give your brain proof that most worries never happen.

Are you brave enough to do this? Brave enough to reclaim your life, and to get rid of dread and worry forever?

Train your brain

So how do you convince your brain that worry is useless, and that you can get rid of dread?

1 Record all your worries

Make a record of all your worries. Every single one.

Get a sheet of paper, and draw it up into 6 columns. Use column headings of:

1 Worry
2 What will happen if this worry comes true?
3 How bad will it be? (0 -100)
4 How likely is this to happen? (0 -100)
5 What did happen and how bad was it? (0 -100)
6 How do I feel about it now? (0 – 100)

You could abbreviate these headings as much as you like. Just make sure you remember what they mean. 

Keep this sheet of paper with you every day, all day. Make several copies so that you have plenty to use over some days or weeks. 

In the first column, list every single worry as soon as it pops into your mind. It doesn’t matter how tiny the worry is. And if you’re filled with dread all day, you probably have tons of worries.

For example:

I won’t get a park at the train station
l’ll feel sick all day if I’m late
I might forget to go to the bank today
I’ll get a headache in that meeting
Everyone will notice I haven’t washed my hair
They’ll all stare at me when I get on the bus.

You can shorten these if you want. But make sure you write down every single worry you have. If you only cherry-pick certain ones, this won’t work. It depends on you recording all your worries, even the most insignificant ones.

2 Compare predictions with reality

Now compare your worry prediction with what happened in reality over a few days or weeks.

Example A (for a month)

1 Worry: I won’t find a park at the train station.

2 What will happen? I’ll have to walk and will miss the train. I’ll be late and flustered when I get to work. I could get a warning and might lose my job.

3 How bad will it be if it does happen? 80/10

4 How likely is it to happen? 75/10

5 What really happened and how bad was it? Most days for the past month I got a park about 200 m away. One day I missed the train –  and my boss understood. 35/10

6 How I feel about it now (with rating): I know that it’ll be OK most days. And if I miss the train occasionally, it’s not going to be a big drama. I can let them know and I’ll still get there almost on time. 30/100

Example B (for a week)

1 Worry: They’ll all stare at me when I get on the bus.

2 What will happen? I’ll be really embarrassed. I’ll turn bright red and trip or drop my ticket. Everyone will laugh and think I’m stupid or look weird.

3 How bad will it be if it does happen? 95/100

4 How likely is it to happen? 100/100

5 What really happened and how bad was it?

I did blush every day, and I dropped my ticket once. I looked at people’s faces when I got on the bus to see their expressions. Some people glanced at me for a few seconds and then looked away.

No-one laughed, looked at me in a funny way, or made any comments. No-one except a few teenagers really took much notice of me, and they didn’t look at me for long. 40/100

6 How I feel about it now (with rating): Most people don’t even care what I do or look like. They’re not really interested. They just look at me when I get on because there’s nothing else to look at. And if I drop my ticket or trip, they don’t care. 35/100

Note the amount of detail that each person wrote for what really did happen. And that their predictions didn’t all come true in reality.

Making it easy

It may seem like a lot of work to do the above. But if you really want to get rid of dread and worry, it’ll be worth it.

You could break it into stages. For a few weeks, just list each worry you have. Then make a mark each time the same worry pops into your head. That in itself will show you the time and energy you spend on worry.

Then for the next few weeks, fill out the sheets to see which ones come true.

Compare your predictions with reality

Make sure you compare your predictions with what happened for each worry.

Finally, see how many worries turned out worse, better or the same as predicted.

Chances are, you’ll be surprised.

Results

It’s a fair bet that many worries either didn’t happen at all, or were much less distressing than you expected.

In other words, you believed many terrible things would happen. But in reality, very few of them did. You believed they’d be terrible and awful, but most of the time they weren’t.

So the conclusion is that your worries are often unrealistic and unlikely to happen. You’re spending valuable time and energy worrying for nothing.

Banish worry

Be willing to accept that worrying all day isn’t helpful. Learn to challenge these feelings of impending doom, and get rid of dread and worry. Just because you think something bad might happen doesn’t mean it will.

Let these worry thoughts slip past. Don’t get caught up in them. Tell yourself they’re exaggerating how bad it will be. Tell yourself they probably won’t happen anyway, and even if they do, you’ll cope.

Let the worries know you don’t have time to think about them now.

And anyway, you’re probably focussing on all the wrong things.

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