As we wind up Live Happy’s 90 Days to a Happier You challenge, anxiety expert Karen Cassiday, Ph.D., discusses the tools, practices and behaviors necessary to leave worry behind once and for all.
If you’ve been trying out some of the worry-management strategies I’ve recommended, like Kim Baker, the art director at Live Happy whom I have been coaching, you probably feel less pressured, more relaxed and more peaceful than you did 90 days ago.
Having the courage to apply worry exposure (repeating your worst thoughts aloud until they no longer bother you); apply mistake exposure (inviting and allowing imperfection); avoid reassurance seeking (asking questions and searching the Internet to get anxiety relief); and counter your body’s alarm reaction by using exercise, meditation or relaxation can go a long way toward managing worry.
Kim says she no longer feels the need to seek reassurance, but like many worriers, she still finds it easy to dip back into the worry zone when something catches her off guard or doesn’t go according to plan. These unexpected or “off-plan” moments provoke uncertainty and go against the perfectionist belief that “It is better to worry and plan everything than to wait and see what surprises life might have in store.” But this focus on making all things go according to plan suppresses spontaneity, which prevents playfulness and joy. It turns any project into a big deal, a series of significant tasks that must be accomplished or else disaster is certain.
Struggles with perfectionism
For example, Kim was approaching her daughter’s birthday party with the same degree of planning and precision that the White House staff might use for a state dinner. She was intent on finding the best invitations, the best decorations, the best games and the most suitable goody bags. Kim’s worry and perfectionism made her overlook the very simple, real-life problem: What would be fun for 5-year-olds at a birthday party? Singing the birthday song, eating cake and ice cream, drinking soda, running around and being silly—they don’t need much else!
Look at the bigger picture
Worry also makes the worrier forget that sometimes the best moments in life are the unexpected ones. Think about it: When you remember a special occasion, weren’t the unscripted moments the most touching, the most humorous or the ones that brought everyone closer? The reality is that if we attempt to script our life, we’ll end up squashing our life.
Just as I challenged Kim, I challenge you to view unexpected moments as wonderful opportunities for adventure. Those are the times you should be most grateful for because they invite you to be spontaneous, playful and fully present.
A clinical psychologist and nationally recognized expert on the diagnosis and treatment of anxiety, Karen is president of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) and a founding fellow of the Academy of Cognitive Therapy. She has appeared on NBC's Today show and other media to discuss anxiety, and she is sought after by newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times for her expertise. Find out more about Karen here.