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How do you stop worrying? Particularly at the moment with so much uncertainty in life?
Apparently, the average person spends 5 years of their life worrying.
When you consider that 90% plus of our worries never actually come true, this does seem like a monumental waste of time and effort!
Despite knowing that, I’ve been the average person most of my life…
Although I’ve put many things in place to help, sometimes I still feel I’m in a battle with myself to stop worrying.
(Another, linked problem I have which I know many of you do too, is overthinking things. Here are 7 powerful ideas to stop overthinking).
We all know that worrying gets you nowhere. It doesn’t get work done and it is a waste of time and energy.
Even with this knowledge, it can still be extremely difficult to stop worrying.
My worry manifests itself in many ways including:
- obsessively planning for every possible thing that could go wrong
- coming up with a million and one ‘what ifs’
- getting out of bed 20 times a night to write down things I need to do
- replaying conversations where I worry I’ve upset the other person and
- catastrophising and overreacting to the smallest of issues
What have I learned about dealing with worry?
The main thing I’ve learned is that trying to resist the worries is futile, they just get stronger.
Ignoring worries, not listening to what they are telling us and ultimately not taking action can result in them shouting more loudly. Just like a petulant child!
With practice over time, I’ve managed to take notice of and to reduce my worry to more manageable levels.
Here are 11 top tips that I personally use which can help.
1. Find Out Why You Worry
I spent years worrying about anything and everything. Then I came across the Mark Twain quote below and it struck a real chord.
[tweetshare tweet=”I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened – Mark Twain” username=”alisonw30″]
I realised how much time and effort I’d spent worrying about things that never actually happened.
It can be helpful to examine your worries and to try to get to the root of what is causing that worry.
For every worrying thought you have, ask yourself is it a useful or a toxic worry?
For example, say you are worried about which house to buy. This can lead to time usefully spent weighing up the pros and cons of different properties.
Going over and over a conversation you had with your partner about the properties, worrying about what you said and didn’t say is less useful.
“Worry is thinking that has turned toxic. It is jarring music that goes round and round and never comes to either climax or conclusion.” Harold B. Walker
In my own case, the underlying reasons are usually a feeling that I need to be in control along with self-esteem issues which go back to childhood.
2. Distract Yourself
Distracting yourself in some way can be a helpful tactic. Get physical – go for a walk, a change of scenery and getting out of the house can work wonders.
If you have a wood or a forest nearby, go for a walk there.
Image from Pixistock
Research has shown that walking through trees (known as ‘forest bathing‘) can be particularly calming.
I also find mundane tasks such as housework (boring but true) take my mind off what is worrying me.
Another tip is simply to slow down. Do whatever it is you are doing more slowly and try to focus exactly on what you are doing. This can help to slow the racing thoughts.
This book by Dale Carnegie is a useful resource, packed full of excellent advice.
3. Realise You Cannot Control Everything
I’ve had periods in my life where I’ve felt responsible for everything, including how others behaved. I now realise this is completely unrealistic!
When I look back at my achievements in life so far, I know that although I definitely contributed to them, there were other forces at work too. Luck, coincidence and other things outside of my control all played a part.
Recognising this has helped me to slowly relinquish some of the control I felt I needed to have.
I now tell myself that I can’t control how other people act and, although I can influence outcomes, I can’t always control them either.
If I catch myself worrying about something, I will ask whether I do actually have any control over it. No? Then I stop worrying.
Yes, then I will write down my plan for addressing the issue – and then stop worrying.
4. Limit News Consumption
This has been a huge one for me during the Coronavirus Pandemic. In the early days back in March 2020 I would obsessively watch every news bulletin as well as following developments on social media.
Guess what? My worry and anxiety went through the roof! So much so that I had to stop going on social media for a time.
My news obsession has started to creep back a bit lately so I’m trying to limit myself to one news bulletin a day. Preferably earlier in the day as well so that pointless worry doesn’t keep me from sleeping!
5. Practice Mindfulness Meditation
Worry is one of two things:
- going over something which happened in the past
- imagining how something will go wrong in the future
Mindfulness meditation is all about being in the present moment.
Get started with this quick exercise:
- sit in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed
- take 3 deep breaths, focusing on the breath and how it feels as you do this
- if your mind wanders, bring it back to focusing on the breath
- now focus on what you can hear for a couple of minutes
- again, if your mind wanders bring it back to focusing on sounds
- take another couple of deep breaths and open your eyes
With practice, meditation can make you more aware of the thoughts that come up and which of those thoughts produce the most anxious feelings.
Image from Pixistock
It makes it a lot easier to catch those worry thoughts before they turn into a monster!
If you would like to learn more about mindfulness meditation and where to start, check out my beginners’ guide.
6. Journal It Out
It helps to write down half a dozen things which are worrying me. Two of them, say, disappear; about two of them nothing can be done, so it’s no use worrying; and two perhaps can be settled – Winston Churchill
I’m a huge fan of journaling. Like Winston, I find writing down what is on my mind can help me gain perspective on things and realise what I can and cannot control.
A couple of times I’ve been so overwhelmed with worry that I’ve simply written a ‘stream of consciousness’. I’ve not worried about whether it’s all negative or all worries about nothing. I simply write what is in my head and how I feel.
I’ve found this gives me a tremendous sense of relief.
It’s also hugely helpful to read back over my journal a little while later and realise that (as Mark Twain said) most of what I was worrying about didn’t happen!
7. Recognise & Let Go Of Negative Thought Patterns
You might think that with a blog named Little Blog of Positivity I’d be telling you ways to stop your negative patterns completely.
It’s actually PERFECTLY NORMAL to have negative thoughts.
What you may not know is that human beings are wired this way. It’s built into the primitive parts of our brains to look for threats and things that can go wrong. It’s what’s kept us safe for millennia!
Yes, it’s blooming annoying but you can’t really stop them.
It becomes unhealthy when we believe those negative thoughts. Trying to wrestle them to the ground doesn’t help either.
Instead of letting a snowball of negative thoughts carry you away, try noticing them instead (mindfulness and journaling both help with this).
It takes practice, but if you can recognise the thoughts are there you can then more easily let them simply pass by without judging them.
For example, in my own early experiences of practising mindfulness, I found that I had a tendency to replay conversations in my head and also to have imaginary (usually argumentative) ones with people I was soon to talk to about something difficult.
Now I have this awareness, I find I can usually stop before the thoughts turn into a runaway train!
8. Ask What Is The Worst That Could Happen?
Think of what is the worst thing that could happen, and then accept this. Not easy to do I know but it can help to reduce the level of fear.
A lot of what we worry about is temporary – failure, rejection, embarrassment etc.
Even with consequences that are more permanent, there will still be options for moving on from what has happened.
A number of years ago I was made redundant.
I’d been worried about this possibility for some time and had numerous sleepless nights as a result.
Once the inevitable happened, I weighed up my options and started applying for jobs. I eventually found one which opened up so many other opportunities for me. If I had stayed in the original job, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Remember, worrying never changes anything, what will happen happens.
Trust that you will always have options to move forward, the support of others and that you have the ability to make wise decisions.
Image from Pixistock
9. Take Action
Where you have identified that your worry is about a thing you have some control over, then make a plan to take some action.
Ask yourself what the worry is trying to tell you, what is at stake and then what can you do to address that worry.
10. Ask ‘What If….Things Go Right!
What do you notice here:
1×1 = 1
2×2 = 4
3×3 = 9
4×4 = 14
I’ll bet that you noticed that the bottom sum is wrong?! What about the 3 that are right??
We are hardwired to look for the negative. I’ll say it again, it’s what kept our ancestors safe. It’s so much easier to think ‘What if….(add your own potential catastrophe)’ rather than asking what if things go right?
I’ve made a conscious effort to think ‘what if…things go well’ lately. It is quite challenging, but I’ve found writing things down helps. It requires a little bit more brainpower than focussing on the negative but is so worthwhile!
11. Talk It Out
They say that a problem shared is a problem halved.
Just make sure you choose someone to talk to who won’t fuel your worries and make them worse.
Choose someone who listens without judgement and who has a positive outlook on life.
Talking things through with a professional such as a therapist, counsellor or coach can also be helpful.
(If worry is taking over your life then I would advise you to seek professional help in any case).
Image from Pixistock
So there we have it, 11 top tips to help you to stop worrying.
Take action and plan and prepare for what you have control over.
Let the rest go then sleep well knowing that what you fear most will probably never happen!
Finally, if all else fails, eat dark chocolate!
Studies have shown that dark chocolate (that’s the quality 75% + stuff, not a Mars Bar) can ease stress and anxiety. A number of other foods have also been found to reduce anxiety levels, but chocolate is definitely my favourite from the list!
I would love to hear any other strategies you have found which help with stopping worry and managing anxiety. Let me know in the comments section below!