There was one year of my life when I dealt with worry more than any other year… and no, it wasn’t 2020. It was 2017.
What happened? I moved my family across the world, from Oklahoma to Italy. Quite a change. On our way across the pond, we had to deal with a few family issues, including the death of my last living grandparent and, of all things, a tax audit.
The tax audit came because we adopted. Apparently that almost always triggers a tax audit, so know that if you’re looking to adopt — the IRS is coming for you! But don’t worry. They’re super unorganized and mostly have no idea what’s going on… plus, you’re not doing anything illegal so there’s nothing to worry about.
All of this takes us almost through the end of January that year. And it didn’t end there.
I had just arrived at the busiest military base I will ever work at.
So there we were, trying to find a house while I immediately started working long hours.
I quite literally worried myself sick more than a few times that year.
And as a parent, being temporarily homeless for over two months is tough. We did have a home (military lodging) and we were looking for a place to live, but I could tell my children felt uncomfortable. They wanted their own home again. They wanted a yard.
I tried to play the “we have it so much better than most people” card on myself, but it wasn’t helping. You handle the situation you’re in at the level you’re at, and I wasn’t handling it well. Often, people who are literally starving handle it better than someone who is simply unhappy with their job. We can handle more than we think, but it has to do with what you’ve faced up to that point. And I had never faced a life change like this.
We did find a home. We did make it through that year. And now we approach our move as we travel even farther away from the States (based on time zones) to Japan.
I grew more as a person in 2017 than I had in my entire lifetime before it. That means I’ll be able to handle this next transition much better than the last.
Worry almost got the best of me, but I found some great ways to take my life back, out of the clutches of worry, stress, and anxiety. But before we go on, it’s important I tell you that I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on the internet. This is not medical advice. This is for the average parent who deals with worry… and that’s most of us.
Worry is one of the leading causes of death, though it’s usually disguised in some form of physical disease or sickness. But worry is at the root of so many of the issues patients are dealing with in hospitals all over the world.
When I got stuck in that year of worry, I started reading Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. I actually read it four times that year and I have to say it’s a must-read for any parent, because we are all dealing with worry on some level. If you don’t read a lot, the Audible version is great.
So what do parents worry about and what can we do about it?
What Do You Worry About?
When I reached out to Freedom Sprout Fellowship (our private Facebook group that you should definitely join), I got several responses to what people worry about and how they deal with it.
Let’s start with what the common worries seem to be…
“Worrying about ‘am I doing things correctly as a parent or will my child need extensive therapy one day?’ And my technique to deal with worry is prayer.”Kelley
She was partially joking, but we all worry we’re not doing the right things as parents.
Here’s another one…
“Right now I am starting homeschooling, and have not done that previously – I am getting all the papers in order. I worry about all the children in this generation – who knows what kind of lives they will have, with COVID, and the world the way it is. I worry about my daughter’s future – she is 14, and is very bright. Many colleges are closing due to losing funding after COVID. I am not great with stress, so I cannot fully answer the question of how to deal with it – I try to count to 10, go out of the room, pray right away. In these times I am stressed financially, emotionally, spiritually. Thank goodness I have My Lord in my life.”June
COVID, the future, our children’s future… these are all things we can all worry ourselves sick over.
Here’s the last one I’ll share…
“Major worry is them (my kids) making bad choices, so usually I try to control the situation and that doesn’t work. What helps me is to know I can’t fix them and if they do mess up it’s natural and not my fault either.”Tara
I like how Tara realized the things she worries about, but she also acknowledges that we aren’t responsible for every little thing that happens to our kids. We will shape a big part of their adult life, but more than nature or nurture, your kids will have to make a choice on how they want to live their life, and that will be the main factor in how they “turn out.”
The main question here is, “how can we deal with all this stress and worry?”
I love practical ideas, instead of vague concepts, so here are some actual practices and habits you can use to stop worrying and take your life back…
1. Two-Week Attitude
This is an easy concept, when you’re dealing with worry.
Just ask yourself, “will I be worried about this in two weeks?”
If you won’t be, there’s no reason to worry about it right now. If you will be, ask yourself if there is anything you can do to change the situation. If there is, take action. If there isn’t, there’s no point in worrying about it right now.
Think about all the things you were worried about last week, month, and year. Sure, some things stick with us, some things are more serious than others, but overall, worry is quite temporary.
Worry itself is never helpful. It’s good to be concerned, and a small amount of stress can actually help motivate us, but worry is never a good thing.
Similarly, you can try the 10-year rule.
2. Worst-Case Scenario
Ask yourself, “what’s the worst that could happen?”
I know, I know… those are often famous last words. This isn’t a “hold my beer and watch this” type of question.
When you’re worrying about something, ask yourself quite literally: “what’s the worst that could happen?”
Once you’ve honestly answered the question, accept that as a possible outcome. Accept the worse-case scenario. Once you’ve accepted the worst possible outcome, you can accept anything that happens. You may be surprised at how much the worry fades when you’ve accepted the worst, especially since the worst rarely happens.
But what if it’s really bad? What if the worst is losing your job, or even worse, losing a loved one? You have to deal with that outcome. If that happened, you would keep moving forward. You can always find another job. In time, you will be able to deal with the loss of a loved one. You always make it through.
No matter the outcome, if you accept the worst now, you’ll worry less.
3. Day-Tight Compartments
In How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie talks about “day-tight compartments.”
A ship has water-tight compartments that can fill with water, be shut off from the rest of the ship, and keep the ship afloat. This is how we must view our days.
One day at a time. Worry about today if you must, but don’t worry about tomorrow.
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”Matthew 6:34
Always plan for the future, but only involve yourself in today. You can’t change the past or the future. Live in the present.
4. Chances of Happening
That thing you’re worried about… it probably won’t happen. Statistically.
As much as 85% of what we worry about never actually happens.1
Remind yourself that whatever you’re worried about likely won’t happen. Sometimes it seems like it’s bound to happen and nothing can change it, and then it doesn’t happen. Think back to all the times that’s happened in your life.
At times, you have to verbally tell yourself things like this. Worry gets the best of all of us at one point or another. When we’re in the thick of it, it’s not always easy to remember that it probably won’t happen, so be mindful of this and remind yourself of this.
Positive self-talk and prayer really come in handy here.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”Philippians 4:6
5. Try Meditation
I didn’t want to list prayer—even though my writing is based in biblical, Christian concepts—because I feel like that’s obvious and often overstated.
“Just pray about it.” How many times have you heard that? Prayer works… it definitely does, but it’s also too easy to tell someone to pray about it or to say you’ll pray about it and not actually follow through.
This is where meditation can be a gateway into deep prayer sessions.
I know the word “meditation” used to be taboo in Christian circles, even though it’s woven throughout all of Christian history. I think there was a misconception that all meditation was an Eastern concept, because in the mid-1900s, the Eastern form of religion and meditation exploded in the States.
But it’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s actually quite Biblical. The Bible has a lot to say about meditating on God’s Word and meditating in general.
Here are some ways to start meditating, if you’ve never tried it, or never been successful with it:
- Start small – Even if you only have five minutes, or even two, to meditate each day, start with that. The smaller you start, the easier it will be, which means you’ll be more likely to stick with it.
- Find quiet – It’s hard to sit in a comfortable position and focus on your breaths if there is a lot of background noise. Find a time during the day when you can sit in complete silence. Or use ear plugs.
- Be still – If you’re a fidgety person and have a hard time being still (I’m a drummer, so I understand), make sure to make it a priority to be still. It may take practice, but stop moving while you meditate.
- Use mornings – While evenings before bed are a great time for meditation, I’ve found meditating in the mornings is best to get your day off to a good start. Or why not just do both?
- Start now – You may think you’re not ready to begin, but it’s so simple, just start now. You may find you’re terrible at focusing on your breath, but that’s why you keep doing it over and over.
- Smile – This is personal preference, but I find smiling helps when you first start. Once you’re truly focused, you’ll probably forget whether you’re smiling or not, but it creates a positive start.
- Try guided – If you’re having difficulty focusing or you don’t like the idea of sitting alone and focusing on your breath, try a guided meditation. They are helpful for the beginners and the experienced. John Eldredge created an app called Pause, based on his book, Get Your Life Back. It’s the app I use every morning to mediate before prayer and Bible reading.
Meditation is a great addition to your morning ritual.
6. Try Journaling
I can’t explain how this one helps, but it does. Maybe it’s simply getting all the worry and thoughts out of your head and getting it down on paper or typed into a computer. Regardless of how, it definitely helps.
Journaling has got me through some tough times. Often, when I start pouring out my thought and ideas, things come together and I can find solutions to problems.
These are just a few ways journaling can help:2
- Clarify your thoughts and feelings. Do you ever seem all jumbled up inside, unsure of what you want or feel? Taking a few minutes to jot down your thoughts and emotions (no editing!) will quickly get you in touch with your internal world.
- Know yourself better. By writing routinely you will get to know what makes you feel happy and confident. You will also become clear about situations and people who are toxic for you — important information for your emotional well-being.
- Reduce stress. Writing about anger, sadness and other painful emotions helps to release the intensity of these feelings. By doing so you will feel calmer and better able to stay in the present.
- Solve problems more effectively. Typically we problem solve from a left-brained, analytical perspective. But sometimes the answer can only be found by engaging right-brained creativity and intuition. Writing unlocks these other capabilities, and affords the opportunity for unexpected solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems.
- Resolve disagreements with others. Writing about misunderstandings rather than stewing over them will help you to understand another’s point of view. And you just may come up with a sensible resolution to the conflict.
Find the time. Usually the early mornings or late nights right before bed work best. I use mornings. I don’t stick with a specific format, but I do write at least 200 words every time. Having this minimum helps me get as much out of my head as possible, but you don’t have to have a minimum word count. Sometimes I write 201 words, while other times I write 1,500 words. I write about travel journeys and life experiences, but I also write about worries and struggles.
I have never been able to keep a journaling habit with a pen and paper, but I do well journaling online. I have a private blog as my journal. It’s great because I can search and find old entires, and I can see the titles of all my entries laid out. I can even categorize the entries. But if you prefer pen/paper, do what works for you.
If you prefer physical, here are some types of journals to get you started:
- Moleskine – The classic Moleskine journal has been used for years. A go-to for many.
- Rhodia – Very high quality journals, but also a little more expensive. I think it’s worth it.
- Leuchtturm1917 – This company makes all kinds of journals, in different shapes and sizes.
- Christian Art Gifts – Not sure about the quality, but these are Christian-themed Journals. I love the idea.
- The Five-Minute Journal – Answer a few questions to start your day and a few to end it. Questions that make you think.
- The Sunrise Manifesto – A 16-week gratitude journal. Answer some questions about your day.
- Five-Minute Gratitude Journal – A similar, but cheaper version. It’s not quite as detailed and pretty.
- 5-Minute Gratitude Journal – Also a cheaper option. For both of these gratitude journals, there is only a prompt to write what you’re grateful for.
If you prefer digital, here are some great options:
Offline Journaling (Private)
- Word Docs – Open a Word Doc (or other word processor), and start typing. It’s that easy. Use the date for the title and sort them into folders by month, to keep track of all your entries.
- Gmail – This is a unique idea, but one thing you could do is use Gmail drafts as a private journal. Or you could email the entries to yourself and file them by month and year.
- LifeJournal – This is a Windows-based journaling software. It costs around $50 to get the private, offline version, but it’s pretty and functional.
- The Journal – Also a Windows-based software and also about $50. This is a great, organized journal tool. There are even special versions to use for devotionals. Free 45-day trial.
Online Journaling (Private)
- Journalate – My favorite private online journal. Beautiful interface, update from any device and free.
- Penzu – Another online option. Customizable and it looks great. A free version and a paid version.
- 750 Words – This website is geared towards writers, but journalers are writers too! Free and private.
- GoodNight Journal – Use this for a private or public journal. Just giving you one more option. It’s free.
Online Journaling (Public)
There are plenty of options for a public journal — that’s basically what a blog is. Here are a few options:
Choose an option and start dumping those thoughts in a place you can come back to. If you try one type of journaling for a few weeks and it’s not working out, try another.
7. Do Something Radical
This is often my favorite way to deal with worry when it gets overbearing. I’m not saying I do something radical every few months, but occasionally it’s extremely helpful.
The idea is to make a huge change. This might seem counterproductive, but it isn’t.
You may be dealing with a lot right now, and you may need to get away. You may be limiting yourself with your beliefs. If “I could never do that” is a common phrase in your vocabulary, it’s time to get rid of it.
Here are a few options depending on the situation:
- Take an extended vacation. This doesn’t have to be expensive. You could go on a long hike or camping trip and spend next to nothing. Getting away always helps.
- Move to a different state/country. As I mentioned, doing this caused worry for me due to the circumstances, but if your worry is all tied to where you live, try making a radical change by moving far away. Look for a job opportunity and go.
- Quit your job. Your job may be the main stressful factor in your life. Why do you still work there? Life is short and there are always other jobs out there. Don’t let your job kill you. I’m not telling you to quit your job right now and become homeless. Get a plan first, but don’t spend so much time planning that you never actually do anything about it.
Sometimes the radical choice is the right choice. Don’t do anything radical without first counting the cost, but life is too short to be stuck in a situation that is detrimental to your health.
You Can Defeat Worry
It comes down to this: if it can be changed, change it. If it can’t be changed, don’t worry about it. It’s like the Serenity Prayer:
Even if the outcome could be severe, worrying won’t help.
If you’re somehow stuck in a situation that can’t be changed, and it’s pure hell, worrying won’t help.
Worrying will never make things better. It will always make things worse.
Of course, I realize this is all easier said than done, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
Go back through the ideas and find the ones that work for you.
Further Book Reading
- How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie (if you only read one book on worry, read this one)
- The Stress-Proof Brain by Melanie Greenberg
- Get Your Life Back by John Eldredge
Books on Worry for Kids
- D, Goewey. (2017, December 6). 85% of What We Worry About Never Happens. Huff Post.
- J, Axelrod. (2016, May 17). The Health Benefits of Journaling. PsychCentral.