How to not worry

The How To Issue: Some people are born gnawing their nails, others float through life without a care. While a modicum of worry can be motivating, overworrying leads to sleepless nights and stressful days. Here's how to tame your inner worry monkey.

by Emma De Vita
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

First, recognise that worry is related to the conversation you have in your mind, and usually concerns the future. This means you have the power to change that conversation or stop it altogether.

And if you are a born worrier, stop describing yourself as one. 'We live up to the labels we give ourselves,' explains Paul McGee, author of How Not to Worry (Capstone). Second, it's important to differentiate between worry that is helpful and worry that is not.

Worth-it versus worthless worry

Worth-it worry is the sort that motivates you into taking action. Have a fast-approaching deadline? A big client meeting? A best man's speech to give? Worth-it worry will ensure you knuckle down and prepare.

Jon Moulton, chairman of Better Capital, relishes it. 'When I have done everything I can, I put it to one side,' says the straight-talking turnaround specialist, who claims never to have had a sleepless night. 'I've always operated quite happily with serious levels of tension - I really enjoy it,' he explains.

Worthless worry, on the other hand, is when you sweat about the stuff you can do nothing about. It's sitting on a plane worrying that it's going to crash, or panicking over moving house even when your solicitor has crossed all the t's.

Take action

With worth-it worry, the solution is simple: take action. And sooner rather than later, because too much worry can paralyse you into inaction. Worthless worry, however, requires different strategies.

It's important to control your imagination so that it doesn't run away with itself and start catastrophising. 'We create movies in our minds,' says McGee. 'But, remember, you are the director who is able to shout: "Cut!" and do a retake.'

Try reshooting Jaws as Finding Nemo. If you suffer from the middle-of-the-night terrors then it can be a good idea to write down what you're worrying about.

'Being proactive may not solve the problem but it may make it better and you'll worry less,' says Henrietta Royle, executive coach and chief executive of strategic consultancy Fanshawe Haldin.

If it's possible, write a to-do list or an action plan. Or you could try making yourself think about something else. 'Even fantasy things like what you would spend your money on if you won the lottery,' she adds.


When dealing with an unsolvable worry, the only thing to do is to accept the situation, difficult though that might be. And just because it is happening, it doesn't mean it will go on forever. 'Accept that right now, this is the reality,' advises McGee.

Distraction is a good technique to allay your fears - try to keep busy. 'Busy people worry less because we can't hold more than one thought at a time', explains McGee.

Or try doing something that could cheer you up. 'It could be watching a funny film, reading PG Wodehouse or meeting up with a friend,' says Royle.

In fact, talking over problems with friends and family (something women are particularly good at) can help you deal with your worries by giving you a different take on things. Who knows? You might even be able to enjoy some light relief.

'Cracking jokes can put things into perspective,' admits Moulton, who has posted a set of jokes on the Better Capital website.

For example, Q. What is a compelling argument in the window industry? A. An open and shut case. See, you're smiling already (that's a terrible joke - Ed).

Strategy Misc

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