Is it possible to have a worry-free pandemic? After all, there seem to be endless things to worry about—from our own survival and well-being, to that of our loved ones, to the overall trajectory of the global economy. But according to Karen McGregor, not only does all this worry come at a high cost to our health, it’s a symptom of a bigger problem.
“First, worrying drastically suppresses your immune system,” says McGregor, author of The Tao of Influence: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Leaders and Entrepreneurs (Mango, September 2020, ISBN: 978-1-64250-275-6, $24.95). “You could eat the world’s cleanest diet, but if you worry all the time, you’re basically saying, ‘No, thanks, organic veggies and fruit—I’m choosing the greasy burger joint down the street.’ That’s what the stress of worry does to our bodies.
“But also, worry is just another word for fear, and fear keeps us from being fully present,” she adds. “When we’re not fully present, we’re disconnected from our primal power, which is love power, and that means we can’t be our healthiest and happiest selves and have a positive influence on those around us.”
Her book lays out a path—rooted in the ancient wisdom of the 4,000-year-old Tao Te Ching—for identifying and breaking the “power patterns” that undermine your influence, create dysfunctional relationships, and otherwise squelch your potential. Read it and you’ll note that fear (a.k.a. worry) plays a role in virtually all of these power patterns. The bottom line: Even right now—especially right now—we need to break the bonds of worry and create a healthier, happier life. (Consider it your pandemic project.) Here’s how.
First, understand why worry happens. “Worry is a mechanism of the mind that is designed to keep you exactly where you are,” says McGregor. “By mulling over a situation without a solution, you are not changing and not acting. This is the mind’s nature; its job is to keep you safe from perceived harm. While that can serve its purpose if we are in imminent danger, the reality is that it blocks us from creativity, productivity, and following our dreams.
“Over your lifetime, your mind has created patterns to keep you safe,” says McGregor. “These patterns have been with you for so long that they are automatic. Do you ever notice yourself automatically saying to people the same response when asked a question like ‘how are you?’ This is what your mind does. It is on an automatic worry ‘channel.’ The good news is you can break these patterns and change the channel.”
Tune into the channel you’ve been listening to (probably for years)… Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings and see if you start to notice a pattern. At the heart of your worrying could be “blame” or “judgment.” It could be your need to be right or your need to be a victim to your circumstance by repeating the same story of injustice to anyone who will listen. It could be your need to withdraw from others and say, “No way, I know better” and live out a pattern of withdrawal and entitlement in which the world owes you something.
…then, dismantle your channel. You can do this simply by becoming more and more aware of how you worry. Does your Victim power pattern take hold so that you say things like, “I can’t recover from these losses”? Or do you pull away from everyone (a sign of the Withdrawer power pattern) and then say, “I’m in this alone; I have no support”?
“When you are aware of the channel you are listening to, you can watch your worries simply float on down the river of thoughts,” says McGregor. “You don’t have to hook into them. You can observe your thoughts joining millions of other fearful thoughts that are swimming around the globe every single minute. When you observe, you’re not worrying.”
Focus on solutions. Each time you become aware of a worry-filled thought, ask yourself, So, what am I going to do about it? You can stay helpless by feeling overpowered by worry or you can take action. At the very least, your action will help you feel less helpless, and at best it can help you shift into a healthier state of mind.
“An action-oriented solution may be to sew homemade masks to mail to friends and family,” notes McGregor. “It may be to sign up for an online class that makes you more marketable after the pandemic ends. Or it might just be to go for a midday walk to get some fresh air and sunshine, or to turn on some festive music and cook a beautiful meal for your family.”
Create a new language. Language is powerful, whether we are saying those words out loud to others or simply thinking them to ourselves. Replace your go-to “worry words” with words that empower and generate passion and enthusiasm. Remember, says McGregor, you are always influencing yourself and others, so get serious about using empowering, positive language.
Instead of saying, “I can’t recover from these losses,” replace those words with, “I am creative and have the support I need to learn how to earn more than enough income.” Rather than, “I am so busy I can’t keep up,” say, “My life is wonderfully full as I serve the world with my purpose.”
“Worrying doesn’t fix what’s going on in the world; it only hurts you,” says McGregor. “We’re all facing challenges due to the pandemic, but we don’t have to let worry make them worse. Be gentle with yourself and start making healthier choices. You’ll immediately notice a shift in your outlook. That’s true now, and it will be true long after the pandemic is over.”