5 simple strategies to stop worrying
What are you currently worried about? What thoughts swirl through your head in the middle of the night?
It’s important to note that some level of worry is completely normal. In fact, worrying is important when dealing with stress as, when managed well it can increase your motivation and enhance problem-solving skills.
However, worry becomes a problem when it consumes you and starts to impact your everyday living. Excessive worrying can greatly impact your physical and emotional wellbeing and the ability to manage stress, resulting in an increase of emotional distress.
Why do we worry?
According to Robert L. Leahy, PhD, the author of The Worry Cure: 7 Steps to Stop Worry From Stopping You, “People worry because they think something bad will happen or could happen, so they activate a hypervigilant strategy of worry and think that ‘if I worry I can prevent this bad thing from happening or catch it early.'”
In other words, we often feel that if we don’t worry, then things will get out of hand.
Feeling uncertain is not something that sits well for most people and it’s often a significant cause of worry. The brain can trick you into thinking that if you continue to go over something in your mind, and attempt to problem solve, then somehow it will help the situation and make you feel better.
Unfortunately, not. In many instances, you are probably too focused on everything you can’t control (which is not problem-solving), and thinking about what’s going to happen down the track – things you have no way of knowing. This results in creating even more emotional distress, so you’re likely to feel worse, rather than better.
5 simple strategies to stop worrying
If you’re struggling with excessive worrying, try the below tactics and see which one/s work best for you.
1. Make a list of your fears and concerns
The first thing you need to do is get all those worries out of your head and onto paper! Apart from being very therapeutic, it will help you to identify exactly what you are worried about.
The next step is to analyse the list and work out whether each worry is productive or unproductive. A productive worry is one that can be actioned upon right now. For example, if you are worried about an aspect of an upcoming holiday, you can make a phone call to your travel agent or look it up online. An unproductive worry is something that you don’t have any control over, such as someone else’s response to a situation or what you would do if a family member became ill and/or passed away.
If you’re experiencing unproductive worries, then you need to try to accept your own limitations and that there will always be uncertainty for these types of things. Leahy says “Many worried people equate uncertainty with a bad outcome, but uncertainty is really neutral. When you accept uncertainty, you don’t have to worry anymore. Acceptance means noticing that uncertainty exists and letting go and focusing on the things that you can control, enjoy, or appreciate.”
2. Focus on the present moment
Sometimes, we become so focused on worrying about what might happen in the future, that we forget to focus on our lives right now. This is where mindfulness comes in.
If you feel yourself caught up in a web of worries and you’re struggling to get out, take yourself to a quiet space, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing. If worrying thoughts start to fill your mind, just let them go and return your focus to your breathing.
Check out my recent mindfulness blog for some other techniques to try.
3. Remember it’s never as bad as you think it is
Worrying is usually focused on the anticipation – the ‘what ifs?’ in life. But many of the worst case scenarios that we build up in our minds don’t usually work out that way.
There’s a great quote by Winston Churchill –
“When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.”
Take the time to reflect on some of your past worries. Did they eventuate as you imagined? Probably not! Even if something was to occur, we usually cope better than what we had feared/worried about.
For any future worries, ask yourself ‘What is the worst that could happen?’ Remembering that most situations have a silver lining, try to imagine yourself in that situation and think about how you would like to feel, and what you could do or say to yourself that would be more helpful. It’s much better than letting your fears go wild.
Sometimes we have a good reason to be frightened or fearful, and overwhelming worry is a normal response. But in some cases, solving the problem and letting go isn’t always possible or easy to do. Being kind to yourself and trying to focus on the small things that are actually within your control will be the most helpful option.
Allowing yourself time to find clarity in this way can save you a whole lot of time, energy, and suffering.
4. Share your worries
A problem shared is a problem halved. Take away the intensity of your worries by sharing them with someone close to you – whether that’s your partner, friend or another family member. They can sometimes help you to see the issue or situation from an objective perspective.
This tactic can make a big difference because you’ll probably find that as the conversation unfolds you start to wonder why you were so worried in the first place. Sometimes the other person doesn’t need to say anything. You might find that by simply saying things out loud you’re able to work through the situation yourself. Or they might have some useful advice to offer when they were in a similar situation to you.
5. Create a stress management plan
If you find yourself worrying on a frequent basis, then you might find a stress management plan to be helpful.
Exercising, eating well, and getting plenty of sleep is vital when trying to keep your stress and anxiety levels under control. But you also need to give yourself time to enjoy healthy stress relievers such as meditation, a new hobby, reading, or hanging out with friends. Check out my blog on managing anxiety for more suggestions.
If your worries are still troubling you, I can work with you to discover additional strategies to help you to overcome them. Feel free to contact me on 0404 032636.
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Kylie Lepri is a registered Psychotherapist, Marriage & Relationship Counsellor, Clinical Supervisor, and Training Consultant. Since 2003 she has helped individuals and couples work through life stressors, develop new goals and create better relationships. Get Kylie’s FREE ebook: 5 Proven Strategies to help manage stress today, by joining her newsletter below.