In one of my previous blog posts I discussed the differences between healthy and unhealthy worrying. However, one comment that I receive a lot from clients is, "I feel like I can't stop worrying! How do I stop it?" So even though someone can recognize that their worries aren't very helpful, they can't figure out a way to stop them from happening. So in this blog post, I'll discuss ideas that you can use to effectively deal with worries.
Worries Are Just Thoughts, and Nothing More
The first tip I have isn't so much of a technique, but more of a mindset. Sometimes we can misinterpret what our worries mean, and we make them out to be a bigger deal than they really are. While it's true that at times anxiety can help prepare us for difficult situations, a lot of worries tend to just be repetitive nonsense! Don't take it personally though, we all do it! Within each person's mind, there are insecurities and nonsensical worries that just pop up here and there. These worries do not necessarily indicate danger, and worries themselves won't cause you any sort of harm. So this leads to my first "strategy" for dealing with anxiety...
Stop Struggling With Your Worries!
Here's a way to look at it: if worrying is normal, if we all do it, and if worries aren't a threat to us in any sort of way, then perhaps it's fine to just let them be there! How much energy are you spending struggling with your worries? How much are you thinking about your worries, i.e. worrying about your anxiety? An easier, and typically more effective, approach might be to just let the worries be there and let go of your struggles with them. If you want to take a bit more of an active approach to dealing with your worries, then here are some ideas on that.
Become a Thought Observer
Have you ever seen a nature documentary where wildlife experts observe the behaviors of lions and other big cats? They aren't supposed to intrude on the animals' lives in any way, and they also need to be impartial to their behaviors. A wildlife expert wouldn't see a lion hunting a zebra and eating it's raw flesh and exclaim, "Wow that lion is truly awful, that's horrible what he's doing!" All they would typically do is observe and record what's going on. Similarly, you can become a curious and non-judgmental observer of your thoughts. Try this: sit in a quiet room for about 5 minutes. Close your eyes, and attempt putting all of your attention on any thoughts that arise in your mind. They can be words, images, memories, or even just blank space. There is no right or wrong thing to think of, you're just observing. Observe any thoughts that arise in your mind with openness and curiosity.
Unhook Yourself From Your Worries
One simple trick that you can try out is adding a few key words to the beginning of your worries. For example, instead of saying, "My partner is getting tired of me and is going to leave me eventually," try saying, "I'm experiencing the worry that my partner is getting tired of me and may want to leave me eventually." It's a subtle change, but the idea here is that you're adding a bit of distance between yourself and your worries. By adding the words, "I'm experiencing the worry that..." you're indicating that the statement isn't necessarily true, and it may not be a real threat to you. Therefore, it may not be something that you need to dwell on or address in any way, you can let the worry come and go.
You may have noticed that I didn't mention any ways to actually stop worrying. That's because as long as you are alive and have a healthy mind, being completely worry-free will be impossible to do! Rather, you can learn to live with your worries and simply react to them differently. That way you can live a fulfilling life, regardless of the worries that come up for you.