“Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.” Swedish Proverb
Worry. It’s a normal part of life. But “normal” worry iss excessive when it’s persistent and uncontrollable.
It’s natural to worry about an unpaid bill, an upcoming work task, a sick child, or a bill coming due. Expecting the worst can take a tool on your emotional and physical health, leave you feeling restless and jumpy, cause insomnia and stomach problems, and make it near impossible to concentrate at work or school.
You may think that worrying will eventually help you to find a solution to a problem or prevent you from being surprised by anything that happens in the future, but the opposite is true. When you constantly worry you soon feel paralyzed by worry, trapped in a prison of thoughts from which escape seems impossible.
The following are ten ways to stop drowning in worry and move forward with your life, feeling more in control regardless of what “might be.”
How to stop worrying
In order to stop worry for good we rounded up some research-backed ways.
1. Put your worry on trial
Find some relief from worry by putting your worry “on trial” and challenging your disaster scenarios and “what ifs.”
Like any good trial lawyer, ask yourself:
- What’s evidence do I have that the thought is true? That it’s not true?
- Is there a more positive, realistic way of looking at the situation?
- What’s the probability that what I fear will actually happen? What’s a more likely outcomes?
- How will worrying about this issue help me and how will it hurt me?
- What would I say to a friend who had this worry?
When you’ve answered these questions, you’ll likely recognize that your worry is exaggerated and the things you fear might happen are far less likely to occur.
2. Be present
When you spend too much time reliving the past or predicting the future, it’s easy to get swept away by disaster scenarios. Instead, try to focus on spending more of your attention in the present moment.
3. Take baby steps
To get out of a worried head space focus on the small steps you can take to move forward. Ask yourself: “What is one small step I can take right now to start improving this situation I am in?”
If the worry is solvable, start brainstorming. Make a list of all the possible solutions you can think of. Try not to get too hung up on finding the perfect solution. Focus on the things you have the power to change, rather than the circumstances or realities beyond your control. After you’ve evaluated your options, make a plan of action.
If the worry can’t be solved, accept the uncertainty. Thinking about all the things that can go wrong doesn’t make life any more predictable. Focusing on worst-case scenarios will only keep you from enjoying the good things you have in the present.
4. Talk about your worries
Keeping worries to yourself only causes them to build up until they seem overwhelming. But saying them talking with a trusted friend or family member can help make sense of what you’re feeling and put things in perspective. If your fears are unwarranted, verbalizing them can expose them for what they are-needless worries. And if your fears are justified, sharing them with someone else can produce solutions that you may not have thought of alone.
5. Practice mindfulness
Worrying is usually focused on the future-on “what might happen” or rehashing things you’ve said or done from the past. and what you’ll do about it-or on the past (e.g., rehashing the things you’ve said or done). Mindfulness can help you break free of your worries by bringing your attention to the present. This strategy is based on observing your worries and then letting them go, helping you identify where your thinking is causing problems and getting in touch with your emotions.
Learning to be present will help you keep your mind focused on what you’re doing now rather than worrying about things you can’t change. Even simple meditations, such as 10 minutes of sitting down just focusing on your breathing, has been shown to reduce everyday stress by as much as 39%.
6. Set aside “worry time”
Instead of worrying all day, every day, set aside a half hour to think about your problems.
Penn State researchers found in a 2011 study that a four-step stimulus control program could help seriously stressed people take control of their anxiety.
Step one: Identify the object of worry.
Step two: Come up with a time and place to think about said worry.
Step three: If you catch yourself worrying at a time other than your designated worry time, you must make a point to think of something else.
Step four: Use your “worry time” productively by thinking of solutions to the worries.
7. Accept the worry and move on
When you find yourself worrying, take a minute to examine the things you have control over. Worrying about worrying is a dangerous cycle to fall into.
A 2005 University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee study in the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy showed that people who naturally try to suppress their unwanted thoughts end up being more distressed; those who are naturally more accepting of their intrusive thoughts have lower levels of depression and are less anxious.
Recognize that, sometimes, all you can control is your effort and your attitude. When you put your energy into the things you can control, you’ll be much more effective.
In another study, Dr. Robert L. Leahy found that 85% of worries have a neutral or positive outcome meaning that 17 out of every 20 worries you have turn out okay. And, as for the other 15%, Dr. Leahy reported that they believed they had handled the situation much better than they thought they would.
Feeling a bit more in control of worry?
Practice the any or all of the steps above and the next time you find yourself thinking that there is no need for you to beat yourself up about worrying. You’ll reduce your stress levels, you’ll be more productive, you’ll be more “present” when with people, you’ll have more restful sleep, and you may experience a newfound sense of being in control and the master of your own destiny.
It’s as French Renaissance philosopher Michel De Montaigne said, ‘My life has been full of terrible misfortune; most of which never happened’.
References and Research Sources
- Scientists decode how meditation relieves anxiety. Retrieved October 24, 2018 from: https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/scientists-decode-how-meditation-relieves-anxiety/article4784600.ece
- Planning ‘Worry Time’ May Help Ease Anxiety. Retrieved October 24, 2018 from: https://www.livescience.com/15233-planning-worry-time-ease-anxiety.html
- Marcks\, B. A.\, & Woods\, D. W. (2005). A comparison of thought suppression to an acceptance-based technique in the management of personal intrusive thoughts: a controlled evaluation_. Behaviour Research and Therapy_. 43(4)\, pp. 433-445.
- Leahy, R. How Does Your Worry Make Sense? Published in Psychology Today online. Retrieved October 24, 2018 from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/anxiety-files/200805/how-does-your-worry-make-sense
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