Worrying can be very tiring as it can take up all of your attention, energy and time. In this article, you will find strategies to help you stop worrying excessively and take back control.
Worries are the cognitive manifestation of anxiety; put simply, they are the thoughts that you have when you are anxious. As I have explained in previous articles, anxiety can be useful when it is at the right intensity, and the same thing applies to worries. Worries can be useful but sometimes they are too strong and you may feel that your worries are irrational and uncomfortable.
To get your worries under control, you could try using the following tips:
Research has shown that you can train your brain to worry at a specific time and for a limited period of time. Plan a time of the day (the same time every day) when you can worry for about 20 to 30 minutes. Allow yourself to worry freely and let your thoughts flow without trying to find solutions.
You will still find worries coming into your head outside of that time so, when you notice yourself worrying, acknowledge it and tell your worries that they need to wait until “worry time” for your full attention.
Worries usually appear in the evening or at times when you are trying to relax, so training your brain to worry at a particular time will help you not to engage with worries that prevent you from sleeping or relaxing. You might realise that your worries do not need urgent attention, and that finding a solution straightaway is not vital. This will help you to assess whether you really need to worry about that situation.
Writing is one of my favourite resources as writing down your thoughts can sometimes help you to understand them better.
Writing helps you to think slowly and to digest your thoughts more easily. When you write things down, your brain has to slow down and this prevents it from creating more stories, connecting ideas and making your worries bigger and further from reality.
Writing also helps you to work out if you can manage the situation on your own or if it is slightly out of control and you need professional help.
Identifying whether your worries are solvable or unsolvable, and whether or not you can do something about them, is another benefit of writing. For example, it is possible that you could do something to increase your monthly income but quite unlikely that you could stop climate change on your own.
Thoughts are just thoughts, not facts. Our brain is great at creating stories and filling in the gaps, so assessing your ideas is a key part of managing anxiety.
Divide a piece of paper into six columns. In the first one, write down your thought. Use the next column to write the emotions that you are experiencing and rate their intensity out of 100. In the third column, write down evidence that supports your thought and, in the next one, evidence that contradicts it. Once you have done this, read what is on the paper. I can assure you that, at this point, you will realise that your thought is not valid anymore, so use the next column to write a new thought that is more balanced. Finally, use the last column to write down how you are feeling and the intensity of these new emotions.
Physical exercise helps you to focus on your body rather than on your mind, which will stop you engaging with your worries. Exercise prompts your body to increase hormones that improve your mood, such as endorphins, and has an impact on your sleep.
Mindfulness is a popular strategy to help you focus on what is going on right now, this very second. Focusing on what is going on now will help you to be more proactive and worry less about your actual situation.
Talking to a good friend about your worries is like writing them down. It helps you to see your thoughts from another perspective and get feedback from somebody else. If you feel that you might be a burden, ask your friend if this is the case. If they are a good friend, they will tell you the truth and you will be able to trust them. If you are still feeling a burden, you would probably feel better talking to a professional or to a helpline like the Samaritans (https://www.samaritans.org/).
These tips are not the only ones that you can use, but they are certainly the most popular as they work for most of the people who try them. Remember that everyone is different, and that your circumstances are different to other people’s or even to other times when you may have used these resources before. It is important to know that, to see an improvement in your anxiety, you need to put these tips into practice for a couple of weeks. You will probably see some difference as soon as you start using them and a sustainable improvement after a few weeks.
If you do not see any changes in your anxiety or worries after trying these tips for a couple of weeks, it is probably time to think about getting professional help. Anxiety is more common than you think and it is treatable, most of the time without medication.