In a world full of uncertainty, it can be easy to let negative thoughts and emotions creep in and hard to find your footing and stay grounded. When the mind gets fixated on worry, it can lead you to anticipate worst-case scenarios, imagine danger, or speculate circumstances that reflect your self-worth.
Since worry and anxiety are mostly created by the mind, our fears don’t usually come to fruition. Chances are that lingering pain doesn’t indicate a larger health issue and an upcoming flight won’t end in a crash. An anxious thought surrounding an outcome is almost always worse than the actual outcome itself. No matter what the consequences are, they simply don’t hit as hard as we think they will. Still, those worries can feel paralyzing at the moment, often preoccupying and interfering with the joys of everyday life.
Well, you deserve some daily peace. When it comes to worrying, it’s important to know that you have the power to break the cycle and take back your life. Various approaches can train the mind to step away from those anxious thoughts and help you get back to enjoying the simple pleasures of life.
Why Do We Worry?
Brains are biologically wired to worry. Our ancestors constantly anticipated the worst-case scenario when it came to survival. So, in an evolutionary sense, our minds are designed to be alert and concerned about the future.
How Much Worrying is Too Much?
Occasional anxiety, doubt, and worry are perfectly normal. Overanalyzing a recent date or worrying about an upcoming job interview is simply a part of life’s natural stressors.
If worry starts to become uncontrollable and persistent, running rampant alongside every possible scenario, it could indicate a more serious mental health condition. When you’re having constant anxiety about the “what ifs” of everyday life, it could prevent you from participating and engaging in the world writ large.
That level of worry could become a chronic source of anxiety and stress, often causing corresponding problems like headaches, digestive issues, insomnia, muscle tension, etc. Chronic worrying, nervousness, and just a general feeling of apprehension can take a serious toll on your physical, emotional, and mental health.
How to Stop Worrying
If you’re in an anxiety loop caused by worry and tension, there are ways you can train the mind to be calmer, less uneasy, and reactive, and ultimately turn off a majority of those anxious thoughts.
Tip 1: Write Down Your Feelings
For many worries, anxious thoughts are incited by underlying issues that have not been addressed. A habit of worrying is then formed as a coping mechanism, protecting you from those bad things and preparing you for the worst. You owe it to yourself to reflect so you can start living. One way to do this is through journaling.
Many people believe that taking time to outline negative thoughts and worry will fuel anxiety, but it does the opposite. Taking a pen to paper and physically writing down your feelings, fears, and emotions can be quite freeing.
Journaling allows you to put those worries in a physical form, rather than having them endlessly circulate as an intangible concept in your mind. This can help you put things into perspective. It’s a safe place to express yourself entirely without the fear of being judged. You can start slowly and ease into it. Try journaling for 10 minutes every morning. This can serve as a period where you allow yourself to fully feel every emotion, getting it out of your mind and onto the paper.
Then, at the end of the day, read over what was written that morning. This will be a point of reflection, understanding where your mind was in terms of anticipated outcomes and what winded up occurring throughout the day.
After reflecting, take a few moments to write down what you’re grateful for. What are the things in your life that you appreciate most? This could be a specific person, like a supportive family member or friend, your health and wellbeing, or a simple glass of wine. Try to list three things that truly fill you with a sense of gratitude. Recognizing what’s in your corner and dedicating yourself to increased appreciation can help you feel more optimistic about the future ahead.
Tip 2: Challenge Your Worries
Take the time to challenge those anxious thoughts that are creeping in. The first step is to recognize what kind of thoughts are occurring.
Here are some common cognitive distortions many people may experience at some point in their lives:
Taking Responsibility For Things That Are Outside of Your Control
It’s important to remember you are only responsible for your behaviors, actions, choices, etc. You are not responsible for the actions of others. Does this mean you do not care about others? Of course not. It simply means you can only control what’s in your control – yourself.
Accepting what you can’t change and focusing that energy on what you can change will help to set boundaries. This kind of mental structure will help to provide clarity surrounding the uncertainty and relieve some of your worries.
Always Expecting the Worst-Case Scenario
Instead of taking responsibility for everything going on around you, this type of cognitive distortion is rooted in a sense of helplessness. When you’re constantly feeling out of control, it can be easy to let your mind jump to the worst possible conclusions. For example, you board a plane and your first instinct is to worry about it crashing. Thoughts like these could be occurring for a variety of reasons and it can be difficult to break the cycle, just like any other bad habit.
Try to train your mind to remain rational and calm. Focus on logical, concrete answers, rather than letting your imagination get carried away. Google how many planes crash per year and adjust your percentage from 100% to the actual statistic. This will hopefully help ease the mind and reduce worries.
Automatically Making Negative Assumptions and Filtering Out The Positives
When you make an assumption, you are telling yourself that something is true without any evidence that it is. When those assumptions are always negative, it can lead to worry and anxiety. Here’s an example – you didn’t get the promotion at work, so you assume your boss is going to fire you. This spiral of negative thinking can affect your emotions, actions, and mental health more broadly.
Learn how to recognize when you are making assumptions. Assumptions come in all different shapes and sizes. You could be assuming multiple things without even realizing it. Journaling is an extremely helpful ally for this. The act of writing down what you’re assuming will provide some clarity. And the more you know about your presumptuous behavior, the more power you have to gain perspective and break the habit.
Write down a list of your anxious thoughts and challenge them with questions. Ask yourself:
- Is there evidence that this negative thought is true?
- Is this situation out of my control?
- Is there a more positive way to look at this?
- What are some more likely outcomes?
- Will worrying help the situation?
Tip 3: Acknowledge the Solvable Versus Unsolvable Worries
Problem-solving is a tricky thing. It requires you to evaluate the situation, come up with distinct steps to deal with it, and finally put that plan into action. Worrying during troubling situations will rarely lead to solutions. Instead, you may run over the problem in your mind a million times without actually getting anything accomplished. Overall, problem-solving and worrying through a situation are two very different things.
You must recognize whether your worry can be acted on or not. Solvable worries are the ones you can work through constructively. For example, if you have high cholesterol, there are specific steps you can take to try and lower it. You can avoid greasy food and start exercising to improve your levels. This is a solvable worry with a plan of action that has legitimate steps to address the issue.
Unsolvable worries are the ones that are out of your control, where the worrying is unproductive and will not change the outcome. For instance, if you have anxiety stemming from whether it will rain on your vacation. The weather is completely out of your control and there is no corresponding action to change it. Because unsolvable worries are often caused by the uncertainty surrounding a situation, it can often lead to worry and anxiety.
It’s important to remember that life is completely predictable. The future is unknown. You’ll be given some curveballs that are out of your control. Learning to recognize and accept those unforeseen curveballs will hopefully ease the uncertainty and bring some peace.
Tip 4: Practice Meditation and Mindfulness
It’s important to remember that worry, stress, and anxiety are normal parts of life. When worrying occurs, it’s usually focused on a future or past event – wondering what might happen or rehashing old things you’ve done. Practicing mindfulness will teach you how to take a step back from all that stress and worry, so you’re prepared to respond to those thoughts healthily.
Mindfulness is a trained skill to stop overanalyzing the past, worrying about the future, and instead, live in the present moment. This strategy allows you to observe your worries, let them go, and bring your attention back to the present. Spending a few minutes letting go, breathing, and recharging can have a positive impact on your entire day.
When meditating, you’ll sit down in a quiet area and focus on your breathing, the chair beneath you, and your feet on the ground. This brings in an unwavering sense of calm, while also grounding yourself in the present moment. Mediation won’t rid your mind of all your worry in a single session. However, over time it will help to clear the mind by recognizing your thoughts and emotions without letting them weigh on you. You’ll identify these feelings, acknowledge that they are temporary, and then let them go. It’s completely normal if your mind begins to wander during a session. Simply return your focus to your breathing and continue.
Spending a few minutes a day in mediation can restore your sense of calm and inner peace, while also wiping away daily stressors and worries. And these benefits don’t just disappear after your session, with consistent practice, these learned skills will follow you throughout the day. Regular meditation can help to reduce anxiety, increase mental resilience, and improve overall mental health. The best part is that it’s simple, inexpensive, and can be practiced virtually anywhere.
Tip 5: Designate a “Worry Time”
This might sound a little silly, but scheduling 20 or 30 minutes each day to focus on your worries can help to contain and release them. Your designated worry period should be around the same time every day – like first thing in the morning or at the end of the day. This is your time to put everything on the table, every little thing you’re worried about. But the time limit creates discipline and structure. Your worry cannot indulge your mind and go down a mental rabbit hole for the rest of the day.
Of course, this isn’t a perfect system. Worries will inevitably arise outside of your designated worry time. But, that’s when you can practice mindfulness – acknowledge your worry and let it go. Don’t let it spoil your day. Save it for the next “worry time” on your calendar.
Tip 6: Get comfortable With the Uncomfortable and Uncertain
Discomfort can be uncomfortable. But you can practice building a tolerance to that discomfort. Worries tend to stem from uncertainty and new things – like social events or meeting new people. However, the world is in a constant state of flux and change is inevitable. Our hair changes, the weather changes, people change, etc. Change is everywhere.
Give yourself a little nudge and start doing things that may lead to stress. The theory is if you’re doing things that make you uncomfortable, in time, you will rely less on worry as a coping mechanism.
Take a leap of faith into the unknown, allowing yourself to grow and evolve. Recognize when you’re hiding from tough issues and whether that reaction is rooted in anxiety. Instead of playing it safe and avoiding altercation, have the difficult conversation, address the uncomfortable conflict, and challenge yourself to find a way to work through it.
For this strategy to be effective, you must first accept that uncertainty is a reality of everyday life. Your fears, anxiety, and discomfort are also natural and a basic human reaction to that uncertainty. Try to gradually shift your mindset and accept that change is inescapable. This shift in perspective can be freeing and even comforting.
Tip 7: Yoga
Has anyone ever told you to “just stop worrying” when in the middle of a stressful situation? Well, anxiety can’t just be put on hold. It’s hard not to get caught up in the worry of our fast-paced, time-crunched lives.
Relaxation through exercise is a helpful solution to this. While workout trends may come and go, the benefits of yoga are undeniable. There are several techniques and methods that will help to consciously release tension in the body and mind.
Yoga combines rhythmic breathing with a series of flows and stances that require mental focus. When coordinating your breath and physical movement, it can help to calm a racing mind, while also improving balance, strength, stamina, and flexibility. This ancient practice is even used in current clinical settings to treat health issues, like anxiety disorders, high blood pressure, and back pain.
While there are many styles of yoga, most follow the same basic principles:
- Slow, relaxed, and continuous movements
- Holding careful postures as you move your body
- Concentrating on the present moment and putting aside any distracting thoughts
- Focusing on deep, relaxed breaths throughout the entirety of the session
If you’re interested in becoming a fellow yogi, it’s a good idea to start with a class to learn the specific movements and techniques. Since yoga is pretty mainstream, there are studios and classes (both online and in-person) that are easily accessible.
Our worried minds often distract us from the basic pleasures of everyday life. Finding different ways that stop those anxious thoughts in their tracks can encourage you to do what you enjoy.
It’s important to take the time to care for your mental health, just as you would with any physical health issue. It can help you feel better about yourself, be present, and accept any changes or challenges that may come your way.