Have you ever referred to yourself or someone you know as ‘a natural born worrier’? Maybe at some point along the way you started to admit defeat and just accept worry as an unwanted by product of your personality that you have to live with. Of course, some people are more prone to worrying than others, but you will be pleased to hear that nobody needs to live their life plagued with worry. There are lots of things you can do to reduce those bothersome intrusive thoughts which keep you up at night and put quite simply, completely waste your time. Once you recognise that your thoughts are just thoughts, you can learn to control them and not give them more credence than they deserve.
Before I go any further, I just want to make one thing clear. Worrying will not prevent whatever bad thing it is that you are worrying about, from happening. Unfortunately however, when people worry, and the bad thing doesn’t end up happening, we unconsciously make an association between the worrying and the lack of the bad event. This serves to reinforce the worrying and we feel like we therefore need to worry in order to prevent bad things from happening in the future. And worrying about something which has already happened will not change the fact that it has happened. It is much better, if it is within your control, to direct your attentions to making sure it doesn’t happen again.
Most people can probably relate to the fact that once you start worrying, you find more things to worry about. And you can begin to see how worrying can quickly start to spiral out of control. When we persistently worry, the parts of our brain which are designed to keep us safe in an emergency take over. This is when our flight or fight response kicks in and we might start experiencing symptoms associated with anxiety, depression or anger. So you can see how worrying can play a part in our overall mental health and why it is important to try and minimise your worrying.
Thankfully, worrying can to some extent be ‘unlearned’ and there are a number of techniques to help you do this:
Take the time to notice your thoughts and recognise that they are just thoughts and only hold as much importance as you place on them. A worrying thought does not equal a fact. It can help to imagine writing your worry down on a piece of paper, dropping it into a gently flowing stream and then just watching it drift away. As the paper drifts away in your imagination, make a conscious decision to let go of the worry and imagine it just drifting out of your mind. It is important not to ‘force’ the thought out of your head, as this will only create resistance. Allow the thought, notice it, remind yourself it is just a thought and then let it go.
Set aside a specific ‘Worry Time’
Give yourself up to 20 minutes of ‘worry time’, at a specific time each day. This is your allocated time for worrying and you will find it easier to push the worry aside when you know you can come back to it later. During your worry time break your worries down and ask yourself if there is anything that you can do to address the worry. This will empower you and encourage you to look for solutions, rather than feel helpless and like a slave to your worry.
Weigh up the evidence for and against
Ask yourself how much you truly believe the worry and give it a percentage score out of 100. Writing down all the arguments ‘for’ and ‘against’ the worry can help you establish a realistic score. There will often be some doubt in your mind that the worry is true / likely to actually happen and it is useful to recognise that doubt and think about the other possible outcomes / explanations.
Identify negative thinking patterns
Are you thinking of the worst possible outcome and ‘catastrophising’? Or are you thinking in terms of ‘all or nothing’ and ignoring all the shades of grey in between? Or perhaps you are ‘personalising’ and blaming yourself when there are other factors involved. Or maybe you are putting your gloomy glasses on and ignoring any positives. When you are worrying, identify the thought which creates the worry and ask yourself if you are thinking in one of these ways. Once you can identify any negative thinking styles you might be prone to using, you are much more likely to question their truthfulness.
Find a distraction
Our minds have a limited capacity as to what they can focus on, so finding something else to occupy your attention will prevent you from worrying. If you can find something you really enjoy doing, then it will be a much better distraction for you. Examples might include exercise, reading, mental games or focusing on something in your immediate environment.
When those pesky worrying thoughts are taking hold, make sure you steady your breathing. Not only will this serve as a distraction, but when done properly, it can calm your mind and significantly reduce anxiety. Try breathing in through your nose for the count of 5, right into your stomach (so that you can feel it expand), pause, and then breath out slowly through your mouth for the count of 7.
When your stress levels are elevated, you are constantly on high alert and much more likely to perceive situations as ‘dangerous’, which can lead to chronic worrying. Being able to relax is vitally important when tackling worry. Find what works for you and if you need some help relaxing then complementary therapies like hypnotherapy and massage can work wonders. Learning to relax can take a bit of practice, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes.
So next time you catch yourself worrying, try some of these techniques and don’t forget that worrying is just a habit, which with a bit of perseverance, you can break!
If you would like to discuss how Solution Focused Hypnotherapy might be able to help you with your worrying, then drop me a line at [email protected]