Worry is a collective term for continuous thinking about negative events in the past or in the future. As an emotion “worry” is experienced from anxiety or concern about a real or imagined issue, often personal issues such as health or finances, or external broader issues such as environmental pollution, social structure or technological change. It is a natural response to anticipated future problems.
How much worry is too much?
Worries, doubts, and anxieties are a normal part of life. It’s natural to worry about an unpaid bill, an upcoming job interview, or a first date. But “normal” worry becomes excessive when it’s persistent, uncontrollable and it interferes with your daily life.
Constant worrying, negative thinking, and always expecting the worst can take a toll on your emotional and physical health. It can sap your
• Emotional strength
• Leave you feeling restless
• Cause insomnia
• Stomach problems
• Muscle tension
• Make it difficult to concentrate at work or school.
If you’re plagued by exaggerated worry and tension, there are steps you can take to turn off anxious thoughts. Chronic worrying is a mental habit that can be broken. You can train your brain to stay calm and look at life from a more balanced, less fearful perspective.
Why is it so hard to stop worrying?
For most chronic worriers, the anxious thoughts are fueled by the beliefs—both negative and positive—that you hold about worrying:
• Negative beliefs about worry.
You may believe that your constant worrying is harmful, that it’s going to drive you crazy or affect your physical health. Or you may worry that you’re going to lose all control over your worrying—that it will take over and never stop. While negative beliefs, or worrying about worrying, adds to your anxiety and keeps worry going, positive beliefs about worrying can be just as damaging.
• Positive beliefs about worry.
You may believe that your worrying helps you avoid bad things, prevents problems, prepares you for the worst, or leads to solutions. Maybe you tell yourself that if you keep worrying about a problem long enough, you’ll eventually be able to figure it out? Or perhaps you’re convinced that worrying is a responsible thing to do or the only way to ensure you don’t overlook something?
It’s tough to break the worry habit if you believe that your worrying serves a positive purpose. Once you realize that worrying is the problem, not the solution, you can regain control of your worried mind.
How to stop worrying?
• Create a daily “worry” period
Choose a set time and place for worrying. It should be the same every day (e.g. in the living room from 5:00 to 5:20 p.m.) and early enough that it won’t make you anxious right before bedtime.
If an anxious thought or worry comes into your head during the day, make a brief note of it. Remind yourself that you’ll have time to think about it later, so there’s no need to worry about it right now.
During your worry period, you’re allowed to worry about whatever’s on your mind. As you examine your worries in this way, you’ll often find it easier to develop a more balanced perspective. And if your worries don’t seem important any more, simply cut your worry period short and enjoy the rest of your day.
• Challenge anxious thoughts
If you suffer from chronic anxiety and worry, chances are you look at the world in ways that make it seem more threatening than it really is. For example, you may overestimate the possibility that things will turn out badly, jump immediately to worst-case scenarios, or treat every anxious thought as if it were fact. You may also discredit your own ability to handle life’s problems, assuming you’ll fall apart at the first sign of trouble.
For example –
Overgeneralization from a single negative experience, expecting it to hold true forever. “I didn’t get hired for the job. I’ll never get any job.”
Believing that the way you feel reflects reality. “I feel like such a fool. Everyone must be laughing at me.
Coming up with reasons why positive events don’t count. “I did well on the presentation, but that was just dumb luck.”
Labeling yourself based on mistakes and perceived shortcomings. “I’m a failure; I’m boring; I deserve to be alone.”
▪︎ How to challenge these thoughts
During your worry period, challenge your negative thoughts by asking yourself:
• What’s the evidence that the thought is true? That it’s not true?
• Is there a more positive, realistic way of looking at the situation?
• What’s the probability that what I’m scared of will actually happen?
• What would I say to a friend who had this worry?
• Distinguish between solvable and unsolvable worries
Productive, solvable worries are those you can take action on right away. For example, if you’re worried about your bills, you could call your creditors to see about flexible payment options. Unproductive, unsolvable worries are those for which there is no corresponding action. “What if I get cancer someday?” or “What if my kid gets into an accident?”
▪︎ If the worry is solvable, start brainstorming
▪︎ If the worry is not solvable, accept the uncertainty
• Interrupt the worry cycle
There are steps you can take right now to interrupt all those anxious thoughts and give yourself a time out from relentless worrying.
▪︎ Get up and get moving.
Exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment because it releases endorphins which relieve tension and stress, boost energy, and enhance your sense of well-being. Pay attention to the sensation of your feet hitting the ground as you walk, run, or dance, for example, or the rhythm of your breathing, or the feeling of the sun or wind on your skin.
▪︎ Take a yoga or tai chi class.
By focusing your mind on your movements and breathing, practicing yoga or tai chi keeps your attention on the present, helping to clear your mind and lead to a relaxed state.
Meditation works by switching your focus from worrying about the future or dwelling on the past to what’s happening right now. By being fully engaged in the present moment, you can interrupt the endless loop of negative thoughts and worries. And you don’t need to sit cross-legged, light candles or incense, or chant.
▪︎ Try deep breathing.
When you worry, you become anxious and breathe faster, often leading to further anxiety. But by practicing deep breathing exercises, you can calm your mind and quiet negative thoughts.
• Talk about your worries
It may seem like a simplistic solution, but talking face to face with a trusted friend or family member—someone who will listen to you without judging, criticizing, or continually being distracted—is one of the most effective ways to calm your nervous system and diffuse anxiety.
▪︎ Build a strong support system.
Human beings are social creatures. We’re not meant to live in isolation. But a strong support system doesn’t necessarily mean a vast network of friends. Don’t underestimate the benefit of a few people you can trust and count on to be there for you. And if you don’t feel that you have anyone to confide in, it’s never too late to build new friendships.
▪︎ Know who to avoid when you’re feeling anxious.
When considering who to turn to, ask yourself whether you tend to feel better or worse after talking to that person about a problem.
• Practice mindfulness
Worrying is usually focused on the future—on what might happen and what you’ll do about it—or on the past, rehashing the things you’ve said or done. This strategy is based on observing your worries and then letting them go, helping you identify where your thinking is causing problems and getting in touch with your emotions.
Using mindfulness to stay focused on the present is a simple concept, but it takes time and regular practice to reap the benefits. At first, you’ll probably find that your mind keeps wandering back to your worries. Try not to get frustrated. Each time you draw your focus back to the present, you’re reinforcing a new mental habit that will help you break free of the negative worry cycle.
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