Worry is normal; it’s a natural reaction to having an important meeting coming up or a loved one who is ill. For many of us, it can become a shotgun passenger in our day to day lives — so much so that we need to cope with it for every obstacle we face, every single day.
Chances are, you know exactly what we mean. For people with anxiety disorders, catastrophic thinking can freeze them in their tracks. Even people with normal levels of anxiety can struggle when they expect things to go wrong.
For others, it may feel impossible to shake a mistake. You may experience anxious thoughts about a conversation or event that happened days, weeks, or even years ago. When you’re living with worry about the future or regret about the past, you may feel powerless.
If you’re a chronic worrier, it doesn’t matter if it’s the future or the past that leads to anxious thoughts. Either way, it’s pulling you out of the present moment and preventing you from enjoying the best parts of life.
The good news is, once we acknowledge it, we can target it. The first step in doing so is to actually take a step back and asking yourself a few questions. “Is this true? Am I exaggerating this situation? Do I know this event/feeling is from something I did or said?”
If your answers are still “yes,” that’s okay! Here are five things you can do to work on decreasing your worry.
How to stop worrying
1. Make a to-do list
Sometimes our worry is rooted in not prioritizing correctly or having too many things going on. Write a list of all the things you have to do today or this week, and put it in order of importance (which may involve some scratching out and adding in, which is totally fine!).
Once you have your list ready, you can tackle each item, one at a time. When you finish, be sure to reap the satisfaction of crossing it off. Of course, sometimes making the list isn’t so simple, especially if the pressing things are particularly daunting.
If you are intimidated by the items that are high up on your list, you may be tempted to skip them or find another way to procrastinate. Don’t! Instead, break the task down into small, achievable steps. By simply laying the process out, you’re forming a strategy that will boost your confidence and give you the motivation you need to get it done.
2. Stretch it out
We often store negative emotions in our body. Take some time to get moving a bit and stretch the places where you’re holding tension. You can get the peace of mind you need to be able to better confront your struggles head on, with a more positive attitude!
If you’re a novice stretcher, a beginner yoga class can teach you effective ways to stretch all of your body, including difficult to reach places that need some help relaxing. Meanwhile, you’re improving your strength and flexibility in the process.
Beyond the benefits of stretching, many yoga instructors incorporate deep breathing exercises and mindfulness into their classes as well, which can both work wonders for your stress levels. Still, sometimes you may need an extra helping hand to loosen up and get rid of the tension in high-stress areas.
A massage therapist or a chiropractor can work wonders for chronic worries. Spinal adjustments can release hormones that relieve pain and boost your mood, as well as ease tension throughout your whole body. Massages promote relaxation and can reduce stress and anxiety significantly. While you may not have enough money to book regular appointments, you can try trading massage with friends, or investing in an electric massager.
3. Acknowledge the worry, listen to it, and hear what it’s saying
When the worry isn’t rooted in something you need to do, it may come from a deeper negative belief that you have about yourself or your abilities. Getting to the bottom of what these negative beliefs are and where they come from may take a little investigating, so you’ll need to collect clues along the way. Here’s what that might look like:
When you have a negative thought, the first step is to recognize it as just that—a thought. Take a moment to write the thought out and observe it. What emotion are you feeling with this thought? Where in your body do you feel it? Try digging into the real reason behind your worry. Ask yourself, what is scary about my worry? What will happen if it comes true?
Sometimes you may find that your fear is irrational. But that doesn’t mean you should dismiss it. In fact, it’s much better to accept your fear and so you can work on relaxation techniques and other strategies to cope with it.
Other times, your worry may be totally reasonable. If you’re worried about getting into a car crash, you have every right to be afraid – and there may be real steps you can take to decrease your risks. Worrying about it won’t prevent it from happening, but ignoring the worry will only make things work. Schedule some worry time so you can acknowledge the thought, explore why you’re afraid of it, and accept it. Then, you can work on letting it go.
4. Develop healthy affirmations
Your worry may reside in a pattern of negative thinking. Negative thinking is something that forms out of habit, and like many habits, you often do it unconsciously. Luckily, you have the power to reframe your thoughts and prevent those negative thoughts from getting the best of you.
The first step is to create three positive thoughts (affirmations) that reinforce your goals and your abilities. Some of our favorite examples are: “I am completely capable of anything I set my mind to” or “I am in control of my own life” or “I can make it happen.” Take the opportunity to begin each day with these thoughts, and take them with you throughout the day,
Next, be mindful of negative thoughts as soon as you have them, and stop to identify them. Are they self-bashing thoughts that only work to keep you stuck? Offer yourself forgiveness instead. Telling yourself “I always mess everything up” only serves to reinforce your negative thinking patterns, so remind yourself that it’s okay to make mistakes. If you struggle with this, try imagining someone you care about telling you the same thought about themselves. What would you say to them?
If your negative self-talk is centered on something you can’t make yourself do, try a different approach. Rather than focusing on what you need to do, ask yourself how you can get something hard done. Whether it’s going to the gym, quitting smoking, or finally getting your house cleaned up, you’ll be much more productive if you engage your problem-solving skills in your self-talk.
5. Gain a little perspective
Don’t let yourself get caught in a worry cycle—easier said than done, right? When you’re caught in a stressful situation, try zooming out for a second. Think back to some things that stressed you our months or years ago. They probably seem pretty insignificant by now. How big of a deal will your current struggle be in a few years?
Remember that you’re human and you’re doing your best. Whatever you’re facing, there’s someone you can reach out to if you need help, and there are always things you can do to improve your situation. You only have so much time in a day, and if you spend all of it worrying, you are missing out on much more important things.
Worry and stress are things we all deal with our daily lives. With these tips in mind, hopefully you’ll now be better equipped to tackle the worry-beast and rise above it!