Worrying has a positive effect if it prepares you for the worst, but it can also be negative when you constantly worry. Chronic worrying is harmful, it can drive you crazy and affect your physical health. It can drain your emotional energy, send your anxiety levels soaring, and interfere with your daily life.
But the good news is you can train your brain to stay calm and look at life from a more positive perspective. Here’s a few steps on how you can break the habit of constant worrying.
1. Create a worry-free period. Did it ever occur to you that when you try to shut your mind off your worries, the more that you think about them? Forcing yourself not to worry will just make you pay more attention to the thoughts that you are trying to evade.
Instead of ridding yourself of your anxious thoughts, you can postpone it for later. Set a specific time and place for worrying. Make sure that it is the same everyday. During this worry period, indulge yourself with all your worries, write them down, complete with all the resolutions you can think of. That way you have something tangible you can hold on to. When these anxious thoughts come into your head, just look at your list and postpone the worrying part til your next worrying period. Reflect on the worries you wrote down during your worry period. Allow yourself to worry about them, but only for a fixed time. If what you’re worried about is not much of urgency, then you can enjoy the rest of the day and worry about it for the next day. As you develop the ability to postpone your anxious thoughts, you’ll realize that you have more control over your worrying than you think.
Worrying and solving the problem are two different things. Worrying rarely resolves anything but it’s the first step in tackling a problem; you should, however, not dwell on it for too long. Solve the problem by coming up with concrete steps on dealing with it.
2. Ask if your problem is solvable. First, think about it – is it a problem that you can solve? Is the problem realistic or it just an imaginary what-if? Is it something that you can prepare for or is it out of your control?
Solvable worries are those you can take action on right away (for example, if you’re worried about your getting stuck in traffic, you could check the traffic update and look for alternate routes so you can reach your destination in time) while unsolvable worries are those worries that doesn’t require corresponding actions (“What if my child gets into an accident?”). Worrying in your head and solving the problem are two different things.
If the worry is solvable, then start working on it. Write down all the possible solutions you can think of. After evaluating your options, make a plan of action. Focus on the things that you can actually control. If you worry about something that you cannot solve yourself, ask yourself why you’re worried. There must be some underlying emotion that makes you worry, and that’s what you need to address.
3. Accept uncertainty. Chronic worriers are usually those who can’t stand unpredictability – they always have to know what’s going to happen next. But the sad thing is, it can’t always work that way. Worrying about the things that could go wrong does not make it any more resolvable. Worrying won’t stop the bad things from happening. Sure, worrying sets your expectations but it will only keep you from enjoying the good things. That’s what life is – nothing is certain and you just have to deal with it.
4. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is focusing your complete attention to the present moment, and not worrying about tomorrow. It’s an ancient tradition from Buddhism that had been practiced in the western world for behavioral therapy and stress reduction.
Pay attention to the way your body feels, the rhythm of your breathing, your ever-changing emotions and if you find yourself getting stuck on a particular thought, bring your attention back to the present moment. Mindful meditation may be a simple concept, but it takes practice. Initially, your mind may keep wandering back to your worries. Draw your focus back to the present when this happens and you will eventually get the habit and break free of worrying.
5. Be aware of how others affect you. You probably don’t notice it, but you are affected by the company you keep. Studies show that emotions are contagious. The people you spend a lot of time with have an even greater impact on your mental state. Try to avoid people who make you anxious, or at least set certain topics off-limits. Choose your confidants carefully. Some people will help you gain perspective while other will worsen your worries, doubts and fears.
It will take time before you break the habit of constant worrying, but if you have acknowledged your tendency to constantly worry even with the most unimportant things, then you’re on the right track.