There was a point in my life I really didn’t know how to stop worrying.
We recently had the owner of the home we are renting tell us he’s selling it. I spent endless nights contemplating what we would do, how we would survive. I burrowed my brain down the television hole trying to escape the worry. Even the most absurd programming wasn’t cutting it. I worried endlessly about it.
In the end, we still lost our home. Worrying about it didn’t stop it from happening. It didn’t stop our landlord from selling the house or kicking us out.
What the worry did accomplish though is robbing me of a week of my life. For a week it robbed me of my joy, it robbed me of hours I could have spent coming up with a plan B in case the worst did happen. Instead of effectively planning for the inevitable news, I spent the entire week worrying myself sick about the outcome that happened anyways.
We All Worry
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America website, Generalized Anxiety Disorder is one of the most common mental illness in America, with more than 40 million women and men affected. Excessive worry is one of the most common symptoms of an anxiety disorder, as well as persistent tension and nervousness.
I have dealt with panic disorder since I was 18 years old (read on that here), so excessive worry is nothing new to me. I worry about everything. I worry if I left the stove on, worry about the dogs, worry if my bread has mold on it.
But how do you deal with worry when it’s been a part of your identity for so long? How do you work through the feelings of discomfort and uneasiness while still managing to function day to day? This article details out how to stop worrying, and start living.
What Worry Is
You must come to the realization that worrying will not solve the problem in front of you. It may motivate you to a certain extent, but it’s not a solution. It may inspire you to act, to finally apply for a new job, or finally make that doctors appointment, or open that savings account, but without action worry is just fear with nowhere to go. Once you come to this realization and give up the control of worry, you can slowly begin to regain control of your worried mind and start shifting towards a more proactive approach.
How to Stop Worrying
Tip 1: Set Aside a Time for Worry
Set aside a designated time for worry. Make this period the time where you sit in a room, and let your mind just run wild. Make sure this worry period is early enough that you won’t carry it with you to sleep. If you find that you are excessively worrying during the day, make a worry list. Write down every worry that pops up into your head, and during your worry time review every worry that you wrote down at that time. Limit the amount of time that you are reviewing your worries to the amount of time you set aside as your worry period. Every worry outside of that time must wait until the worry period.
Tip 2: Determine if the Worry is Something That Can Be Solved
With losing our house, instead of spending all that time worrying a more proactive approach would have been to start making plans. For example, planning to make sure we have enough money for a down payment on a new place. Or looking at other available rentals in the area.
If you’re spending so much time worry about an outcome it may not be easy to start planning. If you can, sit down and start brainstorming ways that you can deal with your worry. Don’t worry about solving the problem 100%, focus more on just coming up with a comprehensive list of solutions. After you’ve had the time to look through your list and evaluate your options, develop a plan of action. How are you going to attack this head on?
Can it be Solved?
A lot of the things we worry about though are more generalizations and can’t be solved immediately. Thoughts such as “what if I get into an accident” are more attempts at looking into the future and less about solvable problems. Yes, you can wear your seat belt and be more cautious while driving, but you can’t predict if you will get into a car accident or not every time you leave your home. By focusing on the worst-case scenario, you take away from the joy of the present moment.
Also, tune into your worry to see if it may be manifesting from uncomfortable feelings. Maybe you had a friend you got in a car accident on the same road, and now that worry plagues your mind because you worry about your safety as well. Give yourself permission to feel sad about your friend’s accident and remind yourself that the likelihood of the worry happening to you is quite low. You also must sacrifice a small amount of control, as difficult as it may be.
Tip 3: Talk it Out
It helps to have a trusted person that you can go to when it feels like worry is overtaking your mind. My mom is that person for me. She’s been there since I first started having panic attacks and knows just how tough they can be. When I started worrying about losing our home, the first thing she said to me is what evidence do you have to support that? When we found out the house was getting sold, she said what do we need to do next?
Enlist a person that you can trust to really help you from spiraling down the worry hole. This could be a significant other, friend, coworker, parent or even a therapist. It’s important to not let constant worry consume you, it can lead to physical health issues within the body like upset stomach or tension headaches when you hold on to worry to closely. It can also help to confide your worries in another person who can help you come up with worries you may not have been able to come up with on your own.
Tip 4: Start a Mindfulness Practice
According to the Psychology Today website, Mindfulness is “ a state of active, open attention to the present. This state encompasses observing one’s thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad”.
When I started worrying about losing our home, I immediately started thinking about the future and outcomes that have not even happened. It’s when we bring ourselves back to the present moment we can focus on what we can accomplish in the here and now.
Constant worry takes you away from the present moment. It focuses on the past and what mistakes you may have made, or it brings you to the futures and worries about the what ifs. Mindfulness is the practice of bringing you back to the hear and now. It makes you more aware of all your senses. It also teaches you compassionate non-judgement towards yourself. It teaches you to see worries as neither good nor bad, but just passing thoughts.
Some of the things that mindfulness teaches you:
• To be an observer of your worries. It teaches you how to be an outside observer of your worries, instead of allowing them to consume you.
• Let your breath keep you grounded. Every time you feel yourself getting swept away in your thoughts or in worry, come back to the rhythm of your breath. Notice the rise and fall of the breath. Not only is the breath soothing and grounding, but it can help us slow our breathing when we are in fight or flight mode as well.
• Mindfulness is a practice, and with any practice it’s something that you must use daily. You can’t expect to meditate one time and be able to face everything life throws at you. You must establish a practice that works best for you, even if it’s only 5 minutes a day.
Tip 5: Become the Master of Your Anxious, Worried Thoughts
I love when my mom asked me what evidence I had to support the outcomes I was telling her. I mean yeah, those worries did end up happening, but in the moment of extreme worry I catastrophized the worst-case scenario into being even more of a deal.
Cognitive distortions can play mind games with us especially when we are deep in worry. Some of those include
• All or nothing thinking – This is good or bad, but never in the middle
• Overgeneralization – I failed the test, so I failed at everything else
• Believing worries to be reality
• Holding yourself accountable for should and should nots
• Believing you are responsible for events outside of your control
How to Stop Worrying and Start Living
When you learn to identify these types of worries, you begin to become the master of your anxious mind and take back control from worry. It’s one of the biggest lessons that have taught me how to stop worrying.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned from all of this? You can’t control everything. I couldn’t control my landlord selling our house. The things I can control? The way I respond to situations in the future. The way I use my worries as a tool for coming up with strategy, instead of letting it seep into every ounce of my mind. Those are the things that I do have control over.