Worriers often tend to make it a life’s work. They were worried children and are now worried adults. They probably also have worried parents and possibly also for a long time believed in worrying as a sensible approach to life. If you’re a worrier, you might notice that you tend to believe that worrying has some protective function in your life. Perhaps it prepares you for some yet-to-befall calamity or affords a magical kind of security. Perhaps if you didn’t worry you wouldn’t know what to do with all that space in your head that would then be available for other (maybe scarier) thoughts. For whatever reason, somewhere along the line you’ve got trapped in a cycle of worry. You’re ready to break the cycle, but how? Try these seven steps.
Shift to problem solving. Is there a solution to your worry? If you’re worried about an upcoming speech you have to do at a friend’s wedding, then yes, you can do something. You can practise and prepare. Many of our worries offer some opportunity for problem solving. Ask yourself: Is there something I can realistically do about this? Once you’ve established what can be done, get busy doing it! Then let go. If that’s the tricky part, then read on.
Notice your beliefs about worrying. If you find it hard not to worry even when you know rationally it serves no purpose, it’s likely that it in fact does serve some purpose. What do you think will happen if you don’t worry? Worriers often believe the act of worrying protects them from bad things. If you’re of this mindset, not worrying can feel like complacency. It can feel risky. It can feel like tempting fate. This is because you assume a link between your worrying and the events in your life. Recognise that this link is only something you have made up in your own head. Look for the evidence. Are there times when worrying (as opposed to problem solving) has changed an outcome favourably? I didn’t think so. In which case, remind yourself every time you start worrying that it’s not actually achieving anything. You are allowed to stop!
Identify the underlying issue. Take a moment to notice how you feel about letting go of worry. If this fills you with a sense of peace, then great. If the idea of not worrying makes you anxious then you have stumbled upon something important. You are attached to your worries, you are invested in your worries. You are afraid of life without them. They feel like good friends who are looking out for you! First of all, tell yourself this: you can go back to worrying any time! You are not killing your worry friends stone dead. It’s more like you are branching out, making new friends. And we all know that with good old friends you can always pick up where you left off. Secondly, ask yourself: what am I afraid will happen if I stop worrying for a while? This is likely to reveal an underlying issue you need to work on.
Embrace uncertainty. That underlying issue is likely to be something around CONTROL. You may notice you find it hard to cope with the uncertainty inherent in life. You may try to have more control by making efforts to always do the ‘right’ thing, make the ‘right’ decision, be prepared for any eventuality, be perfect and manage what people think of you. The fact is, you really can’t control most of this stuff. Uncertainty doesn’t have to be a terrible thing, to be avoided. Uncertainty – not knowing what happens next – can contribute a lot of excitement to life. Uncertainty can even be embraced!
Know your strengths. Coping with uncertainty is an awful lot easier if you have a strong sense of your own capacity to cope. You may not at this point take much time thinking about all the ways you have been resilient and the challenges and obstacles you have faced, and the sense of your own capacity to cope. Take some time to bring them to mind, acknowledge them and remind yourself that whatever happens in the future, you can handle it.
Face your fears. Facing your fears head-on rather than trying to push them away actually takes a lot of the power out of that fear. It helps you really know that you can cope if it were to happen. Go ahead and imagine the worst-case scenario. You are already doing that anyway. Now instead of trying to convince yourself that it’s not going to happen, instead, let’s say it does happen. Then what? Often if you really look at your worry, you find that if it happens, it’s not actually that big of a deal. You can probably cope. Of course, there are some worries and fears we have that can’t easily be coped with or put right. But it doesn’t mean that they can’t also be lived with.
Get present. In other cases, the WORST case is something terrible like death. As awful as the thing you may be worrying about is, and as devastating as it would be if it came to pass, it remains the case that worrying about it will make no difference whatsoever. As hard as it is to accept, there are some things that cannot be controlled, and worrying is only serving to ruin your experience of the present moment. As well as the things we’ve already talked about, exercises that bring you into the present moment can also help in these circumstances. When you are feeling overwhelmed with worry, do the following:
* Open out your hands wide – stretch those fingers.
* Turn your face to the sun.
* Say to yourself: What happens, happens.
* Take a big breath.
* Notice what’s around you.
* Enjoy the moment.
* Be grateful for one thing.
If you find that your worrying is hard to get under control, online psychotherapy or online counselling can help. Sometimes the reasons behind our worries can be deep-rooted and hard to understand, and it can take time and patience to let them go. A therapist can support you in that process and help you be a less worried you!