Worrying is when we experience repetitive thinking about the same problem over and over again. Everyone worries at times. The problem comes when thinking in this way often doesn’t solve the problem, leading to more worry and anxiety. Sometimes we think by just thinking harder about a problem, we will come up with a solution, but this is unlikely.
What tends to happen is worrying interrupts our sleep and any chance we might have to relax, leading to overtiredness, stress and eventually even burn out. So what can we do?
1. The ‘just worrying’ technique
The ‘Just Worrying technique’ technique is a simple mindfulness exercise that involves you labelling worry (giving it a name and describing it) as ‘just worrying’ and then bringing your attention back to your breath or simply change your thoughts.
Every time you catch yourself worrying, label it and change the subject. It doesn’t matter if you do it ten times in one minute or if you only realise you have been worrying after 2 hours and then use the technique. The key here is that you use this technique when you notice that you are worrying.
2. Thought bubbles
Research has found that we have over 50,000 thoughts per day, most of which we don’t notice. The difference when we worry is that we become fixated on a few thoughts, things like ‘what if I lose my job’. If you can visualise your worries as bubbles, just like you may have blown when you were a child, in your mind, watch the bubbles float away and pop, this will help you redirect your attention to other, more productive thoughts.
3. Change ‘should’ to ‘could’
If your worries contain the word ‘should’, i.e. I really should be getting to bed earlier, or I should be eating healthier, try replacing the ‘should’ with a ‘could’. When you have ‘should’ thoughts, focus on how you feel. ‘Should’ is a word we unconsciously use to berate ourselves into doing something; it often has the opposite effect. Using ‘could’ instead helps you to see you have a choice and control of your actions and can allow you to change the worrying about what you aren’t doing, into action.
4. Focus on what you can control
If you find yourself worrying about things that are out of your control, try moving your focus onto what you CAN control. For example: If you are worried about losing your job, instead of worrying about what will happen, you can start looking for a new job. Even if you don’t apply for that new job, you are spending your time doing some good market research of the job market instead of sitting around worrying.
5. Schedule worry time
It is challenging to eliminate worry from our lives completely, but we can learn to worry less. This is where the cognitive behavioural technique of scheduled worry time can help.
By allocating as little as ten minutes a day to devote to worrying can help you reduce how much you worry throughout each day.
Outside of your ten minutes scheduled time, tell yourself that this is not your ‘worry time’ and therefore, you will attend to the worries later. You can even keep a note of them to know exactly what to focus on when your worry time starts. Many people find an early evening scheduled time works best as this helps clear your mind before sleep.
6. Write down the worst-case scenario and work backwards
Sometimes our thoughts will lead us down the road of worst-case scenarios. Our ‘what if’ thinking starts with something small and can end up with us fearing a terrible disaster. In cognitive behavioural therapy this is called catastrophising. Have you ever considered what the worst outcome will be? Think about the last time you worried about something, what happened? Did you cope? Did you find the resources to get through the situation? If you find this is something you do, think about your worst fear, rate how likely it is to happen, and work backwards to a more realistic solution.
7. Practise breathing techniques to help promote sleep
Many people often find they worry more at night. When you get into bed and start trying to go to sleep, all of a sudden, worries start to pop into your head, seemingly from nowhere. To help promote sleep and distract you from your worries, try the 4-7-8 breathing technique.
8. Practice Mindfulness to stay in the present moment
Anxiety lives in the future; an example is all of the ‘what if’s’ that go round our heads. Worrying increases anxiety, so if we stay in the present moment, there is nothing to worry about. Try practising mindfulness regularly to increase your capacity to be present in the here and now.
9. Find Balance
For some people, life is incredibly busy. With so many things to juggle, it is easy to feel out of control or worry you are not succeeding in areas of life just because you simply have far too much to do.
Try and allocate some time to yourself, this may be to exercise, socialise, or find a quiet half an hour to read a book. Finding a balance in life can help you focus on what is important rather than worrying about things you can’t change.
10. Find someone to talk to
Choose a trusted friend, partner or family member to talk through your worries; this can help you gain some perspective. If you don’t feel you have anyone close to you, reach out to a professional.