Are you a worrier? Some worry is normal. It becomes a problem when the worrying becomes obsessive and takes over your life. Do you want to learn how to stop worrying?
Did you know that research has found that 90% of what we worry about, never comes to pass? That is a lot of wasted energy. Next time you get caught up in worrying, the very first thing to do is to become consciously aware that you are in that state. Secondly, recognise that it is not helping you! Then choose one or more of the following 13 tips and put them into practice:
- Thought stopping: When you become aware of the negative stream of worrying thoughts, tell yourself: “Stop!” You might want to place a rubber band on your wrist and flick it every time you realise you are obsessing. The slight shock will be a reminder to stop. Or, you could just clap your hands together as you say “Stop!” Then immediately change your activity. Walk out of the house, go to the shop and buy the newspaper or a favorite magazine, take a bath or shower, cook dinner or make a hot drink.
- Postpone worrying: Set a time each day for “worry time.” Let’s say you choose 3pm as your “worry time.” When you find yourself worrying about something outside of your “worry time,” try postponing the worry thoughts until later by saying to yourself “I won’t think about this now. I’ll think about it at 3pm.” When 3 pm arrives, you may find it doesn’t hold the same power and you don’t want to bother thinking about it.
- Write it out: If you tried postponing, but you are still worrying, by all means think about it. Sit down and write all of your worrying thoughts and feelings out on a piece of paper. Set a timer and allow yourself 15 minutes on day one, 13 minutes on day two, 10 minutes on day three and so on until you wean yourself off the worry thoughts.
- Relaxation: Worry can create physical symptoms like heart palpitations, hyperventilation and muscle tension. Learning to relax can be helpful. Do progressive muscle relaxation and/or a deep breathing technique (see separate posts for instructions on these). Combine this with burning some lavender oil in an oil burner or diffuser. Also, place a few drops of oil on the palms of your hands, rub them together, hold your cupped hands 5-10cms away from your face and take some slow, deep breaths.
- Physical exercise: Exercise increases endorphins which trigger positive feelings in the brain. Choose some form of exercise every day. For example, clean the house, go to the gym for a workout, get out in the garden and pull weeds, walk, run, cycle, play tennis.
- Emotional release: Play some loud expressive music and dance. Allow the music to get you in touch with your feelings and emotions. Cry if you want to. If you feel angry, pound a pillow with your fists or hit the bed with a rolled up newspaper. As you do this exercise, yell or growl to express how you feel (“I’m so angry!” “This isn’t fair!” “I hate life!”) Only do these types of release work for 10 – 15 minutes; then shift the energy by doing something completely different like going to the grocery store or watching a funny YouTube clip.
- Mind Escape: Do something that will occupy your mind, but is not addictive for you. Examples: watch an old movie, play computer games, listen to an uplifting talk on a blog, read a positive book, do a crossword, choose a topic to research on the internet.
- Diversional Activities: Do something that requires “hands on” work such as a jigsaw puzzle, beading or other crafts, painting or other artwork, gardening, household tasks like painting a room or fixing something. Make a list of diversions that suit you and keep it handy so when you start obsessing, you can choose something from the list.
- Positive Affirmations: Create your own positive affirmations and repeat over and over to yourself: “I am whole, relaxed and free of worry.” “These thoughts are passing through my mind and I am at peace.” Write these affirmations on cards and place them around the house to remind you to say them. Develop a mantra that you relate to and introduce it into your daily life. Some mantras like “C’est la vie,” “All is well,” or “What does it matter,” can be helpful in countering the negative stream of thoughts bombarding you.
- Problem solving: A great deal of worry is about things we have no control over. However, if you are worrying about something that needs a solution, try a problem solving approach. First, brainstorm some solutions. Decide on one and try it. If it doesn’t help or work, try another one.
- Take action towards your goals: Are you worrying as an avoidance strategy? It may sound strange, but sometimes worry can keep you so occupied you don’t have to think about your dreams or goals. As you begin to take some active steps towards things you really want, some of the worry thoughts just fall away.
- Changing Thoughts & Beliefs: When we worry, we tend to overestimate the odds of something negative happening. So, a way to change your thinking is to ask yourself, “What are the odds of this happening?” The other aspect to this is our belief that we could not cope if the worst did happen. Start believing that you can handle whatever life gives you. Next time you find yourself saying, “I’m so worried that this might happen,” change it to “If this does happen, I will handle it. I am not a victim of circumstances.” Identify some specific ways that you could cope if the inevitable did happen.
Mindfulness Meditation: This is the last tip, but probably the best one on how to stop worrying! Meditation helps break the worry cycle by anchoring you in the present moment. Use a technique that feels right for you. The simplest way is to sit comfortably and focus on your breath going in and out; then focus on your stomach and chest rising and falling as you breathe; and finally, focus on your whole body, the breath, the movements and sensations. Once you start practicing a meditation technique on a regular basis, you will notice subtle shifts in your thoughts and your disposition. It really is worth persevering with it!