It can be easier to control worrying than you’d expect, but you need to go about it methodically. You may think that your mind does its own thing, but with the right steps you can take control.
Worrying can wear you out. It is a pervasive habit and unless you learn to challenge it, it will grow and become more difficult to control.
Persistent worrying is an internal process. It happens in your mind and although it relates to external events and what could happen, it is not an accurate reflection of a likely outcome. There are many possibilities, but fixating about the negative ones distorts your perspective and limits your vision.
So, the sooner you tackle the habit of worry the better. The more you do it, the more you’ll be training yourself out of the habit of worrying and into a more resourceful frame of mind.
Worrying and anxiety are related but different. Worry is verbally focused whereas anxiety includes verbal thoughts and mental images. This important difference means that it is easier to control worrying thoughts than it is to calm feelings of anxiety.
Making worry worse
We all worry about things, but some people are more worry-prone and can become locked-into a negative cycle of worry. Worry can become seductive. We don’t like it, but still, we get drawn into it. There are two habits which make it worse; ruminating and catastrophising.
When worry becomes constant and overwhelming it is called rumination. This is the repetitive pattern of going over the same negative thoughts, and it can eventually affect your mental health. If you spot yourself ruminating then break the cycle by distracting yourself. The steps below will help you do that.
This is irrational thinking that makes something appear worse than it actually is. Exaggerating the (imagined) negative consequences, for example. It’s quite easy to change once you have spotted it in yourself. Here too, the following steps will help.
Catastophising is more likely when you hang out with others who constantly express negative views so be careful who you associate with. The same goes for the media; binging on the news can feed into a habit of catastrophising.
7 steps to control worrying
If the habit of worrying is getting you down and you’d like to be free of it, the following techniques can help:
Reframe the worry
Worrying is linked to your style of thinking, to HOW you think about and interpret things. This is where reframing comes in. The ability to see things from multiple perspectives has advantages because it will enable you to put different interpretations on unsettling events.
For example, most actors attend auditions only to be rejected, and writers too are used to having their brilliant efforts returned to them, usually un-read. They reframe these rejections as part of the learning process, or as a challenge to do better next time. If you reframe a setback as only one step on a longer journey, it reduces the effect of the worry.
Reframing is one way to change your perspective, and here’s a download with ideas on how to do it.
Capture your worries in a daily journal
When you write, it lets you get your thoughts in order and helps clear the mind. It aids concentration and has a generally calming effect because it induces a state of mindfulness. It keeps you in the present and provides focus. And if you are troubled by intrusive thoughts, it will also help you to ignore the mental chatter.
You don’t have to be able to turn a perfect phrase and what you write doesn’t even have to make sense. When it’s just for you it becomes a uniquely personal pastime that can reduce tension and worry, boost your sense of self and your confidence.
Spend some time remembering a positive experience, a time when you were happy and comfortable. It doesn’t matter when it was; it is the positive feelings and associations that count.
Visualise an image of that time in as much positive detail as possible. The stronger the image, the more effective it will be. Practice getting in touch with this image often, until you can call it up whenever you need it. Then. when you start to worry, distract yourself by immersing yourself in the positive image and feelings. Doing this repeatedly will reinforce the habit and retrain your mind away from the default position of worrying.
Control what you can, prepare for what you can’t
We have no control over most things that happen in life. To think that we do is a form of delusion. Ask yourself if you have control over the issue you are worrying about. Separate what you can control from what you cannot. For example, you can control your behaviour, but you can’t control how other people treat you. You can control how you spend your day, but you can’t control the weather. Realising what you can’t control will free you to focus your energy on what you can. Even if you can’t control some things, you can prepare for them, if it seems relevant.
Do a reality check
Reality checking allows you to assess apprehension or worry for what it is, so that you can see it from a different perspective.
Worry: “My friends will forget about me if I’m out of circulation”.
Reality: Everyone is in the same situation (because of lockdown). Real friends value you just as much as you value them. You may be out of circulation but you can still keep in touch with them.
Worry: “My promotion will never happen now if I’m not in the office, my career is really screwed up!.
Reality: A temporary holdup doesn’t mean a ruined career. Some people even take a complete break and still manage to come back and shine. If you want to do something about it, spend the time away from the office in developing your skills, ready for when you return.
The reality is never as bad as our fears make it seem. Reality-checking helps counter the negativity that worry brings with it.
Problem-solving means doing something different. If you tend to chew things over (ruminate) when faced with a difficulty rather than doing something about it, you can get stuck in worrying.
You can avoid this ‘paralysis by analysis’ by breaking the cycle. Once you have acknowledged that the problem exists, start thinking about how things could be post-problem, and then do whatever you need to do to start moving in that direction. Small steps are OK, as long as they head in the right direction. If you can’t solve the whole problem, what small part could you tackle?
Accept that life is uncertain
Psychologists call it ‘tolerating ambiguity’. Since most things in life are uncertain you are already able to live with uncertainty, but you probably haven’t realised it if you focus the few things you worry about.
You may not like the idea of uncertainty, but it is unrealistic to think you can avoid it. Accept the inevitable ambiguities of life and they cease to be worries. Look for the opportunities, because every uncertainty is laced with possibility.
Everyone gets gripped by worry at some time. When it persists it can be debilitating. These questions might help you get a different perspective, but if they’re not the right ones for you, I have more, just ask.
If you’d like to discuss this topic with me, send me a sign using the form below. Talking it through is often all it takes to generate a solution or find your way forward.