Have you ever heard of the serenity prayer? You ask for help from God “to accept the things [you] cannot change [and] courage to change the things [you] can change, and wisdom to know the difference.” I often wondered about this prayer: it sounds sophisticated but doesn’t give any practical advice or direction.
So, the prayer seemed like a nebulous cloud floating in the recesses of my brain. When the prayer came to the forefront of my mind, I would quickly respond, “Wha’?” Then it would disappear again.
So, what’s missing in the serenity prayer? A way to operationalize it. After reading Gillian Butler and Tony Hope’s book Managing Your Mind: The Mental Fitness Guide I began to understand how to make use of the serenity prayer and stop worrying. Although it embarrasses me a little to admit it, The OCD Workbook by Human and Pedrick also contributed to my understanding of how to make the serenity prayer practical. Also, reading the book True Resilience by Gail Wagnild helped me to understand that truly resilient people?and they exist?don’t give in to their worries. You can learn resilience, too. But, for now, I’ll focus primarily on Butler and Hope’s book. In later articles, I will cover the content of True Resilience and The OCD Workbook.
How I Overcame Worries and How You Can, Too
We don’t have to be perfect.
That statement hits home for me these days. I never thought of myself as a perfectionist, but looking back on my life, I had a persistent habit of worrying about little details. Are my socks pulled up? Is my hair okay? Is my posture straight? All that fretting and worrying chipped away at my resilience and stifled my happiness.
I stopped worrying about little imperfections in my character or behavior. If I wonder if I look awkward, I think to myself, “I don’t have to perfect. So, don’t worry.” If I say something off-the-mark, I think to myself, “I don’t have to perfect. So, don’t worry.”
Butler and Hope in their book Managing Your Mind: The Mental Fitness Guide say not to worry when something is unimportant, when something is unresolved, or when something is unlikely to happen. Also, in the tradition of the serenity prayer, if you can’t do anything about something, don’t worry about it. Now, if I start to fret about some thought that springs into mind, I say to myself, “This won’t matter five years from now, so trash the worry.”
Also, in the OCD Workbook by Human and Pedrick, they say that if something is not happening right now, don’t worry about it. So, I just think to myself, “Is this happening right now?at a time when I can deal with it head on?” If it’s not happening right now, then I just don’t engage it. Whew!
Something original I came up with began with reading a book that talked about how we only worry about past events because we fear future ramifications. So, I thought of worries about the past as worries about the future. With that in mind, go back to Human and Pedrick who say “It it’s not happening right now, don’t worry about it.” So, I let go of worries about the past as they are future projections, which aren’t happening now. Another take on past worries comes from Gail Wagnild, author of True Resilience. She says resilient people look to their past, seek forgiveness, and move on.
All of the above strategies have been hugely beneficial in me overcoming anxiety. I have finally come to a stage where anxiety has almost come to a complete halt in my life, thanks to these authors?and thanks to not worrying.
How to Lessen Stress
We all benefit from tips on how to lessen stress.
During my first undergraduate degree, I forced myself to sit down and work for hours on end. I took breaks in between, but my high expectations of myself meant I never went to a movie, rarely took a whole day off, and never did any leisure reading.
I’ve come to learn that my productivity can reach new heights if I take breaks to do some leisure reading between stints of work. So, before I hunker down to a writing task, I take time to read an enjoyable book for twenty minutes. I then work for forty-five minutes straight–and repeat the cycle. This strategy eliminates the tension and stress that goes with shackling myself to a computer day and night. Because I’m more relaxed, my productivity has heightened.
While you can’t do this at an office job, you can switch up your tasks; you can go gung-ho for an hour on high-intensity tasks and then do something enjoyable but relevant for twenty minutes. At my former job, my boss wouldn’t let me add any enjoyable tasks to my workload, not even tasks that would boost my overall performance (such as learning programming skills or video editing software), so I did the 9 to 5 grind on tasks that sucked the life out of me?and wound up with severe anxiety.
Butler and Hope advise to take regular time out throughout the day for hobbies such as sports, cooking, and meeting with friends. I love to read non-fiction books in my spare time. I love to learn how to trade options in the market. But other things I hope to do more of include exercise and cooking. I’m a mad scientist in the kitchen, and my cooking space looks like a laboratory disaster when I’m through, but cooking brings me to life?and everything I cook is an original recipe. One day, I’d like to build a robot. Think about your passions and hobbies. Fit them into your daily grind as regularly as you can. When you are on your death bed, it’s both your loved ones and your passions you didn’t realize that you will miss the most.
So, there you have it: the serenity prayer operationalized: (1) don’t worry about unimportant things (that won’t matter in five years time), (2) don’t worry about unresolved things, (3) don’t worry about things that aren’t happening now, (4) don’t worry about the past or the future, and, of course, (5) don’t worry about things you can no longer change. Now you know what it means to not worry, and I know now, too. I haven’t had a panic attack in over a third of a year. (That means I need to go celebrate, as you should, too, for every milestone reached.) Having no more panic attacks is a long shot for someone who previously had them every three days. So, that’s why you shouldn’t worry and why you need to relax more. Now, go ahead and schedule lots of short breaks?treat yourself to hobbies, hot baths, fun reading, and anything else you are passionate about. But, before you build that robot during your down time, at least figure out what a circuit is.