Worrying is like a magnifying glass: It enlarges everything.
It empowers anxiety. It gives anxiety legs, fuel and a superhero costume.
You get the picture: Worrying gives us a false sense of control.
I’m a worrywart, who feels like she has to worry. (Don’t all worrywarts?) Because if I’m not concerned about one thing or another, that means I have no choice but to relax.
And relaxing feels strange — not always, but most of the time.
Relaxing means that the grip on control is loosened.
For many people, worrying is living. You can’t help but worry. You have an endless list of “what ifs?” What if I lose my job? What if I get into a car accident right now? What if dinner is disgusting? What if the weather is bad? What if I miss my flight?
Concern after concern pops into your head. Before you know it, you’ve become an anxious mess. Up at night. Tired and exhausted. Brain buzzing with “what ifs.”
Of course, worrywarts can be quite adept at concealing the messiness, and showing a cool-as-a-cucumber exterior, while we’re screaming inside.
Whether you worry every day or here and there, these strategies can help you ward off your worries and reduce your anxiety.
- Ask yourself right now if you can do something about it. The problem with worry, among others, is that it steals everyday moments. It prevents us from living in the present and enjoying ourselves.In an article on Beliefnet.com, author Allia Zobel Nolan writes:
You’re at the movies and a worrisome thought crosses your mind. Did I check whether the documents were sent tonight to my client? This thought leads to another and another: If it didn’t get sent, maybe I can drop it off in the morning? But I have a breakfast meeting with the V.P. tomorrow. In the meantime, half the movie has gone by, and you’ve missed it.
Zobel Nolan suggests asking ourselves: “Can I do anything about this matter right now, right this minute?”
If you can’t, write down your worry, release it and focus on right now.
- Block out “worry time.” If your worries are interfering with your day, schedule a time each day that you’re going to worry — and only worry during that time. If a worrisome thought comes into your mind, just say to yourself “I’ll worry about this at 7 p.m.”Also, during your “worry time,” brainstorm some ways you can fix your concerns. Some of your worries may be legitimate and no doubt you’ll feel much better if you create actionable solutions.
- Realize that worrying is a choice and do something better with your time. This is another tip from Zobel Nolan. Sure, we don’t have complete control over our thoughts, but thinking of worry as a choice is empowering. You don’t have to feed your worry.Once Zobel Nolan notices that worries are swirling in her head, she focuses on another activity, “something that requires your complete mental attention.”Think of your favorite activities that distract you, calm you down and give you laser-like focus. Maybe that’s reading inspiring lines from a book, praying, meditating or doing a puzzle.
- Flood a piece of paper with your worries. When your brain is bursting with worries, write them down. Release all those cooped-up worries from the corners of your mind, and let the paper deal with them. By writing down your worries, you feel as though you’re emptying your brain, and you feel lighter and less tense.
- Identify the deeper threats behind your worries and instead work on those. Robert L. Leahy, Ph.D, writes in his book, The Worry Cure: Seven Steps to Stop Worry from Stopping You (read an excerpt here):
You worry about some things but not others. Why? Your core belief is the source of the worry. It may be your concern about being imperfect, being abandoned, feeling helpless, looking like a fool, or acting irresponsibly.
So dig deeper into your worries to find the actual root of the problem. Do your worries revolve around the same theme or several similar themes? Write them down and look for patterns.
If you tackle the root cause, there’s a good chance that these worries won’t come up anymore — or won’t be so powerful.
- Feel your feelings.What does worrying have to do with identifying and processing your emotions? According to Leahy, worrying is what we do to avoid unpleasant or painful emotions.He writes:
You are afraid of your feelings because you think you should be rational, in control, never upset, always clear in how you feel, and on top of things. Even though you recognize that you’re a nervous wreck, your fear of your feelings drives you into more worry.
- Participate in physical activity. Physical activity helps in calming your nerves and clearing your mind. When I work out, my worries seem to melt away. Of course, they don’t vanish but physical activity has a way of putting life into perspective. Those happy endorphins probably have something to do with it, too.Just be sure to engage in physical activities that you genuinely enjoy and that make you happy.
- Practice regular self-care. When you’re overworked, stressed-out and sleep-deprived, anxiety and worry thrive. So work on getting enough sleep, taking time out to engage in enjoyable activities and nourishing your body.
- See a therapist. Maybe you’ve tried the above tips to no avail or your worry has worsened. If worry is ruling your world — interfering with work, your relationships or daily life in general — consider seeing a therapist. You can search for a therapist using this tool.
What do you usually worry about? What kinds of themes or patterns surround your worries? What’s worked for you in warding off your worries?