Worry isn’t always a bad word. We all worry now and then, and sometimes we need to – a real issue is at hand, and worry is the mind’s way of making sure we deal with it.
But many of us don’t just engage in practical worry. We instead let worry rule our days, and it can quickly slide into a habit with increasingly negative side effects. Left to go on too long, worrying too much can lead to anxiety, depression, and sleeplessness, amongst other things.
But why am I always worrying too much?
It’s possible some of us are ‘natural’ worriers, with a busier mind than others that leaves us more prone to fretting.
But in a lot of cases, worry is a learned habit. Think of your childhood – was one of your parents or guardians always worried about you or nagging, or always talking about money concerns or what people thought of them?
It’s also a coping mechanism. Worry can be a way to make ourselves better when things are difficult. We can see our worry as a way of ‘being responsible’ and ‘dealing with things’ even though all we are doing is over-thinking instead of taking action on our problems.
And it’s a great distraction tactic. Worry can occupy our minds with small concerns so we can avoid dealing with change or thinking of bigger, more overwhelming concerns. For example, if you are doing something that goes against one of your core values, like taking a job with a cosmetics company that tests on animals which you don’t support, you might worry excessively about things like what outfits you’ll wear for the first few weeks of your new job and whether you’ll get on with new colleagues simply to block out your real concern that you going against your belief system.
Sometimes, worry is also an addiction. Excessive worry can trigger a stress response that leaves us always high on adrenaline, and we can become so used to our ‘stress buzz’ that we keep worrying so we keep juicing our system on adrenaline.
But is it really possible to break the worry habit? What can you really do if you worry too much?
7 Ways to Walk Away From Worry
1. Have a worry feast.
Worries seem to grow the more you try to avoid them. So why not try the exact opposite? Encourage them. Sit down with a notepad and pen and write out all the things you are worried about in as much detail as possible.
Set a timer for a good ten minutes and try to keep examining your anxieties until it goes off so you can’t trick yourself into thinking you’ve dealt with all your worries when you haven’t. You can write about why the worry upsets you, how it started, and how you’d deal with it in an ideal world.
You might find that, like the proverbial monster in the closet, when you shine a light fully on your worries they aren’t as big and scary as you thought.
2. Notice the colour of your thinking.
Or maybe the lack of colour… when we worry, we tend to think in extremes. This is called ‘black and white thinking‘, when we only see the dramatic and worst possibilities instead of the myriad of practical options available to us.
Look at the anxieties you’ve written down during your ‘worry feast’, and see if they sound black and white. Then ask yourself, what other options are really available to me that could lessen this worry? And what one could I try soon, and when would that soon be?
If your black and white thinking is really out of control, you might want to consider Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), noted for its ability to help you notice and change your negative thought patterns.
3. Identify your core beliefs and work to change them.
Core beliefs are deep-seated unconscious choices we have made about how the world works. We often take these beliefs on board as a child and never change. They are rarely factual, although we have convinced ourselves they are the truth. They sound like, ‘the world is a dangerous place’, ‘people from my family never do anything with their lives’, and ‘you can’t trust anyone’. You might even have a core belief that ‘responsible people worry about others’!
Core beliefs are often the foundation stones of worry. For example, if you think you can’t trust anyone, then you can spend your life worrying about every person you meet and what they want from you and whether (or when) they will hurt you.
But if you change the core belief? The worries have no reason to exist any longer. Try journalling or working with a coach to see if you can identify your core beliefs, and then ask yourself, is this belief based on fact? And what worries do I have that are connected to this non-validated belief? What other view of the world could I take instead?
4. Get present.
Worries live in the past and the future and almost never in the present moment. The more you can develop present moment awareness, the less power your worries will have over you.
A popular technique lately is mindfulness, which helps you focus on the here and now using various techniques like deep breathing and attention focussing (you can try a two-minute mindfulness break here).
5. Get physical.
The body and mind are interconnected. If you can’t get your mind to stop stressing, try relaxing your body. You might discover this has a knock on effect and your mind lets up, too. One of the ways you can do this is by trying progressive muscle relaxation, a tool used by therapists as it’s proven to quickly help clients drop into a less tense state.
6. Talk to someone.
Worries thrive on secrecy. The more you keep worries to yourself, the more they can escalate into big, unrealistic scenarios. Telling someone about your worries exposes them for what they often are – either unfounded and unrealistic, or things you can do something about with some clearer perspective.
7. But talk to the RIGHT someone….
To get that clearer perspective, it also matters who you talk to. It definitely has to be someone you trust.
But trustworthiness isn’t enough sometimes. The problem with talking to our family and close friends about our worries is that they are usually invested in the problem as well. For example, if you tell your friend about your worries for your relationship, and she is single and doesn’t like you spending too much time with your partner, she might have the best intentions to be helpful but have a biased view.
A trustworthy outsider can sometimes be much more helpful – whether that is a support group, a coach, a help line, or a counsellor or trained psychologist. They can offer you unbiased feedback and often an entirely new perspective on what you are worried about.
And if your worries are really out of control, and are causing the rest of your life to suffer, it’s definitely time to take them very seriously and seek professional help. If your worries are such that they are affecting your relationships, job, or health, then it’s not wise to think they will just go away.
While it can be easy to tell yourself ‘it’s just worries, it can’t be that important’, don’t forget that those ‘little worries’ can snowball into depression or anxiety disorders if not managed. The great thing about a professional is that not only can they help you take charge of your thoughts, they can teach you techniques to manage worry and anxiety that you can then use for a lifetime.
Do you have any tips for how to handle worry? Or a question about one of our tactics? Do let us know below.
Images by Francesco, Flood llama, Francine Chua