“Worry, worry, worry, worry, worry. Worry just will not seem to leave my mind alone.” – Ray LaMontagne
If these song lyrics could be the soundtrack to your life, read on for some practical tips from a fellow worrier to help calm your fretful thoughts.
What is worry and why does it happen?
Worry is an unpleasant feeling of being anxious and troubled over an actual outcome that has happened, or, speaking from my own experience, an outcome that hasn’t happened yet and probably won’t. But don’t be fooled into thinking that all the worrying you did averted the crisis (or multiple crisis possibilities that you conjured up). That’s exactly what your worry wants you to believe.
Life can be unpredictable, but most of the time it’s not. The fact that random stuff can happen without warning can be a cause for anxiety fueled worry, especially if you’ve had something go wrong out of the blue before. In which case, worry becomes a habit of thinking that lulls you into a false sense of security where your mind gains some semblance of control by preparing for and anticipating all the possible outcomes of a situation so you can’t be taken by surprise. Then, when nothing goes wrong (which if you’re a catastrophiser is very likely), you feel relief and a subsequent reward for all your worrying effort. In reality, all you’ve done is wasted a load of mental energy and caused yourself unnecessary stress.
If this sounds all too familiar, here are my tips for calming your worried mind:
- Start to pay attention to your worrisome thoughts. Notice when you’re worrying and jot all the thoughts down. Make a list of all the things you’re worrying about. My guess is that most of them are things that are out of your control and seeing them in black and white might help you gain some perspective about what’s based in reality and what’s a figment of your overwrought imagination.
- If you’re worrying about a situation and you have influence over the outcome, this is the time to get into action mode and do whatever you can to alleviate the worry. If not (which I suspect might be the case), go to tip 3.
- Take 5 deep breaths to bring yourself into the present moment and ask yourself ‘am I ok right now?’ I liken the experience of worry thoughts to being on a high speed train. Once you’re on board and the worry train is travelling at high speed you’re along for the ride. However, if you can stop yourself from hopping onto the train when it’s waiting at the station you can save yourself the discomfort of being sucked into the vortex of a negative ruminating thought loop.
- Worry is a habit and like all habits, it can be stopped. What’s needed is some separation between you and your worried thought patterns. I heard a psychologist describe thoughts as mental events that happen in your mind rather than being a fixed part of who you are. If you can tell yourself each time you notice a worried thought arising that you’re simply experiencing a mental event, you can choose to stop it in its tracks. Repeatedly doing this will shift your worry habit.
- All negative thought patterns are driven by an underlying belief. Once you identify the belief that’s fueling your worry you can start to challenge its validity. For example, worrying about money can be driven by an underlying fear of not feeling safe or not being able to take care of yourself. By having awareness of the ‘why’ behind a worry thought, you can start to strip it of its power.
- Find evidence that challenges your worry thoughts. Let’s take the belief ‘I’m afraid I’ll run out of money and can’t keep myself safe’, no matter how much money you have, you’ll never feel safe enough to stop worrying until you dismantle the belief. To do this, write down examples of times you have been able to provide for yourself and times you have been able to keep yourself safe. In the same way that your mind will find evidence to support your worries, with some conscious redirection, you can also find evidence to the contrary.
- Gently expose yourself to situations that cause worry and anxiety. Something that I often help coaching clients with is getting over the fear of setting boundaries. When you worry about how other people will react if you say ‘no’ to them, chances are you won’t do it. Start small here. When someone asks you to do something and you either can’t or don’t want to, try a soft ‘no’. This might look like “I can’t help you with that right now, I can help you next week”. Then once you’ve become comfortable with this, you can try a hard ‘no’.
- Plan ahead wherever possible; never underestimate the power of mitigation. A worried mind is a great source of things that can go wrong. Some of these things can be avoided entirely by pre-empting them. To come back to the example of worrying about money running out, you can create a savings plan so you have a financial buffer, get a handle on your finances by knowing exactly what your income and expenses are and be mindful about how you spend your money.
- Set yourself up to win. It’s easy to worry about not being able to achieve something if you keep focused on the end result of a goal and the gap that’s between where you are and where you want to be. This will keep you stuck in a cycle of procrastination, keep you worrying about your lack of results and erode your self confidence. Rather, break your goal down into manageable steps, get started and keep track of your progress. Confidence is built through consistent action which is the nemesis of worry.
- Learn to regulate your emotions. The physical sensations that accompany worry such as: muscle tension, difficulty concentrating, irritability and feeling on edge can be as unsettling as the ruminating thoughts themselves. Techniques such as HeartMath (contact me for more info), meditation and EFT Tapping can be incredibly powerful to help you soothe the physical symptoms of worry which will subsequently help to calm your mind.
Life is uncertain and worry is a coping mechanism many folks use to try and gain control over their lives. Learning to let go of worry and embrace the positive side of life has been a journey I’ve been on for the past few years hence my passion for sharing this work and helping others get out of the trap of negative thinking. If you’ve enjoyed this article, I invite you to check out my FREE online workshop – 4 Ways to Soothe your Anxious Mind here.
I’ll leave you with some words of wisdom from Baz Luhrmann
“Don’t worry about the future; or worry, but know that worry is about as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum.”
Please note: I’ve shared a collection of strategies here which, when implemented regularly will help reduce your worry, however, if your anxiety and worry are making life unplayable, please seek professional help from your doctor. Excessive worry can be caused by underlying medical conditions and, if left unchecked will compromise your quality of life. There’s no benefit to fighting through worry and anxiety when help is available.