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How to stop worrying

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Worrying is like praying for something you don’t want

What exactly is worry?

I’m sure we all know too well how worry feels. Stop for a moment now and just notice what you’re currently worrying about in your life… How does thinking about what you’re worrying about make you feel?

But what is worry? Worrying is a form of thinking about future events in a way that leaves you feeling anxious or uncertain.

When we worry we are attempting to mentally problem-solve an event that planned on happening in the future which has one or more possible negative outcomes. It’s an attempt at control.

Whilst future thinking is often helpful and can assist us with goal setting and planning, it becomes a problem when we ‘future think’ about events that leave us feeling anxious, uncertain and on edge.

Clinically, excessive worry is the primary symptom of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

Why do we worry?

As humans, we like to control. It’s how our brains work. We are wired to future predict because back in the caveman days if we didn’t plan ahead for potential danger, we wouldn’t survive.

So our brains are wired to constantly problem solve which of course is helpful but not so much if we find ourselves in a constant state of anxiety.

When we can’t accept that the said future event is completely out of our immediate control, we revisit that event in our heads and play the ‘what if’ scenarios out over and over again. We image every “what if” and how we might handle it—we’re trying to control an uncontrollable situation.

How can a mental state tied to so much anxiety be rewarding? Each time we worry and nothing bad happens, our mind connects worry with preventing harm:

worry → nothing bad happens.

And the takeaway is, “It’s a good thing I worried.” (We probably aren’t consciously aware of this thought process.)

5 Reasons why we worry

According to psychology today and agreed by yours truly – there are 5 main reasons why we worry and therefore why we keep doing it;

  1. If I worry, I’ll never have a bad surprise

We think that if we worry about something then we can prevent anything bad from happening. Truthbomb – we can’t! Ask yourself “How much am I suffering by worrying about the future?”

Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.

2. It’s safer if I worry. 

We think that by worrying we increase the chance of a better outcome. We think that if we stopped worrying, we would be asking for trouble or asking for something to go wrong. We are wrong thinking this way. Worry does nothing helpful for us.

3. I show I care by worrying. 

If we worry about something we think it means that we care about it. On the flip side, if we don’t worry we may feel that we don’t care about it. Neither of those thought patterns are true. There is a difference between caring about a situation—including doing everything in our power to help it turn out well – and fruitlessly worrying about it which brings nothing but anxiety.

4. Worrying motivates me. 

Productive concern and problem solving is helpful and can be motivating to plan ahead and get things done. However worrying – as I’m sure you’ve grasped by now – does nothing helpful and certainly does not motivate… in fact I would argue it does the opposite!

5. Worrying helps me solve problems.

Again, we might convince ourselves that worrying helps us to problem solve but as the above with regards to motivation, constant worry can actually do harm and interfere with problem solving.

5 ways to stop worrying

  1. Activate your parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system

Worrying causes physical changes in the body such as increased heart rate tension in the shoulders, jaw and frowning at the eyebrows. This is due to the release of the stress hormone cortisol. This puts your body in fight or flight mode (sympathetic nervous system response). When you’re in this state you’re even more likely to worry because you feel physically anxious and on edge.

What calms you down?

Focusing on slowing your breathing for 5-10 minutes really helps. Box breathing is helpful… breathe in for a count of 4 – hold your breath for a count of 3 – breathe out for a count of 4 – wait for a count of 3 and continue the cycle for 10 minutes.

A guided meditation always helps. Use your earphones and lie down to speed up the relaxation process.

Put on some relaxing music and focus all your attention on it.

Take a walk in nature without your phone. Bring yourself back into the present moment and look around you. What can you see, hear, smell and feel?

2. Become aware of when you are worrying

By noticing when we are physically tense or anxious we can stop for a moment and figure out what caused us to feel this way. We often don’t realise what our mind is up to, especially if you’re a natural worrier. So by setting an intention to notice when we are worrying and then creating space between us and the worry, we can consciously choose to release the worry and think about something else.

3. Embrace the unknown

We spend so much time trying to control and resist uncertainty that we find it almost impossible to embrace it and see it as a positive thing to do. Let’s take the word impossible and slightly discept it …

I’m-possible

… sorry to be cheesy but I’m not joking! Anything is possible. Embracing the unknown is actually the secret to living a life of freedom and joy. Practice ‘letting go’ of worry and consider this patience prayer…

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Reinhold Niebuhr.

All we can do is focus on one step at a time that will bring us closer to a goal or to the potential outcome that we want. We cannot control the outcome. Radical surrender is the key.

4. Live in the present moment, every moment

Read the book ‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle. This is a game changer. So often we are reliving the past or worrying about the future when actually life is happening in the NOW. Right at this moment.

Ask yourself often (set alarms on your phone throughout the day or create a trigger for yourself such as everytime you walk through a door)..

Am I in the now? what can I see, hear, smell and feel? What do I feel like in my body? What emotions am I feeling?

Anxiety and stress cannot live in the present moment.

5. Face your fears

The fear of something is often way worse than the thing itself.

What we resist persists and what we face fades away.

Practice welcoming your fears. Ask yourself “What’s the worse that can happen? Can I be ok with this? Will this even matter in 1 years time?”

Think back to when you’ve worried about something in the past and it didn’t turn out bad at all. Or you worried about something happening, it did happen but it wasn’t as bad as you imagined.

You are strong enough to get through anything. You’re life so far has proved this! We will all experience emotional (and physical) pain in our lives, it’s part of life. What I would like to end of is this:

Is your worrying positively impacting your mental, spiritual and emotional health?

I’ll answer for you… nope! So practice letting go of worry and enjoying life in every moment because this is all we really have and that’s perfect!

I’ve linked a helpful worry tree resource here for you to use.

PS-If you liked this article please share and comment so others can benefit from it too!

PPS- I have something exciting launching in September 20202 that will help you will your worry, self-esteem and confidence. Pop your name on my pre-launch list to be the first to know!

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