The most important element in learning not to worry lies in making the distinction between those things that we can change and those that we cannot.
The trick is to make it a matter of habit that the first question you ask yourself about anything is whether or not you can do anything about it. If the answer is affirmative then get your thinking cap on and get that problem sorted. If the answer is negative then stop right there! You can spend the rest of eternity thinking about something but if you have no control over it, the end result will be exactly identical to that if you hadn’t thought about it at all. Nothing can possibly change no matter how hard you try or how much of your precious time you devote to the problem.
Let’s suppose that you are worrying about a flight that you are taking next week. You’re not very keen on flying and the questions keep pounding through your head: What if it crashes? What if it gets hijacked? What if we come down in the Andes and wind up having to eat our fellow passengers? No amount of worry on your part is going to have the slightest bit of an effect on any of those highly unlikely outcomes. If the worst does come to the worst and the ‘plane doesn’t make it, the only thing your worry will have achieved will have been to ruin the last week of your life.
There’s a whole bunch of highly professional people, who know an awful lot more about airline safety than you or I could ever know, and they’re already being paid to worry about it. There’s absolutely nothing you can do to make the flight any safer beyond following the safety instructions that we will be given on-board and keeping your seat-belt fastened.
Chances are that you know deep down, that you’ll get there. It’s a near certainty. Millions upon millions of miles are flown every day and crashes are very rare. It’s a lot less dangerous than other modes of transport that you might not worry about at all. Logically, you know that but the worry just doesn’t go away.
It’s time to reframe the problem in order to address the things that you are able to change. You know you’re scared of flying and ignoring that won’t make it go away. Acknowledge your concern and look at the situation again. You’re off to see your friend or your favourite aunt, and you’d be really looking forward to it if it only weren’t for this forthcoming ordeal by flight. The real issue here is not cannibalism in the High Andes, it’s how you’re going to cope with those two or three hours on the ‘plane. Forget all those “what if…?” scenarios, you now have a question that does fall under your own control, “What am I going to do to get myself through the flight?”
That’s something that you can find some productive answers to. You can think of distractions – something to read, a landmark to spot along the route, something at the other end of the journey with which you can reward yourself for having made the flight. You can then busy yourself looking forward to that post-flight reward, that book that you’ve been meaning to read, that nice cold gin and tonic or whatever else it is that you’ve promised yourself.
You haven’t turned your back on the problem, in any way, but by focussing on those things that you are able to do something about, you’ve been able to improve your experience. The flight may still be the lowlight of your holiday but it will not cast a gloomy shadow over the rest of it.