Stop Stressing, Start Acting

For seniors in high school, getting the mail during the months of January through May is particularly stressful as any day could deliver a college acceptance or rejection letter. For college freshman, right now you’re beginning to wonder how to spend your first college summer. And college sophomores better declare a major soon. All of these scenarios and decisions can cause stress and worry. stopstress In the classic book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie outlines a process to help you stop worrying about the future and decisions you must make. To summarize, his process is to answer the following questions:
  1. What are you worrying about?
  2. What can you do about the problem?
  3. What are you going to do about it?
  4. When are you going to start doing it?
Part of the magic of this process is bringing objectivity and logical thinking into an emotional response. Worry clouds thinking and dramatizes the situation. Stress makes situations fuzzy and difficult to navigate.
  • Instead, first clearly state what exactly you are worrying about. Sometimes worry can make situations so vague that the worry bleeds into every aspect of your life. When you can put definite words around your worry, it minimizes its influence. Also, once you see the exact definition of your worry written down, it oftentimes does not seem so overwhelming and all powerful.
So for example, you could write: “I am worried that I will not do well in my advanced math course this semester.”
  • Then ask yourself, “What can I do about this worry?” Don’t let the worry take control. List out the concrete steps you can take or decisions you can make.
To continue with the example, possible steps you could list include: -Go to my professor’s office hours each week to ask questions on my homework -Get a math tutor -Don’t do anything and see how I do -Find a study partner in the class -Drop the course if I start doing poorly
  • From your list of options, decide what you are going to do. Then DO it.  Worry gets its power through inaction. It tricks us into thinking we’re doing something when we really aren’t. Instead it’s wasting energy, mental capacity, and time that could be productively used toward solving the issue you’re worrying about. So as soon as you list out your options for action, decide on one or two, and take action. Determine exactly when, where, and how you’re going to take action. Usually when you start proactively working toward your decision, your worry begins to disappear.
Write down your commitment: “I am going to go to my professor’s office hours every Monday from 11am-12pm. I am going to study a week before every test with a study partner. If my grade isn’t improving by three weeks before midterms, I will get a tutor.” Then take action on these commitments.  

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