How much time do you spend worrying or thinking about how things might play out? How cruelly realistic our thoughts can seem at the time, but giving them space and credibility by over-thinking, analysing or ruminating works against us to increase stress above the stress of the situation itself. These thoughts can become anchors that keep us tied to the stressful event and stop us from moving forward.
Possibly the last (and the worst) thing to hear when you are worried about something is “Don’t worry!”, “Just Relax!”. It may seem irrational to other people, but ultimately it means there is something that is important to you that is potentially at stake… and that in itself shouldn’t be trivialized. But there are things you can do to stop worry becoming chronic and impacting other areas of your life or health.
The most effective tool for me has been to recognise thoughts as just that … thoughts not reality.
Only 3% of our anxious thoughts ever materialise!
Research showed that not only did 85% of anxious thoughts never happen; of the 15% that do happen, 79% of people realise that they can either handle the situation better than anticipated or that they learn a valuable lesson from the experience… to save you doing the maths that means 97% of things that we worry about never occur.
– Is the thing you are worried about more likely to be one of the 97% of things that don’t happen, or one of the 3% that do? Could you replace the thought with a more realistic one?
Update your thoughts and memories with facts…. Write them down if it helps
What am I worried about?
Am i being realistic?
Where do the facts in my thinking stop and the fantasies start?
What actually happened in the memory I am basing this worry on?
Is there a more realistic, positive interpretation of the situation?
Schedule worry time
Rather than increasing worries by giving them more attention, scheduling in regular time (and a space) to worry can reduce their frequency and impact through the rest of the day, and will free up your mind to focus on more constructive and productive thoughts.
Whether you chose to set aside “worry time” in the morning, midday or evening, you may start to notice that you feel more in control of your worrying and are able to prioritize what to worry about. When worries come up outside your window, simply note them down and reassure yourself (and your brain) that you will deal with them in your “worry time”. It is amazing how many of them will no longer seem important or worth worrying about when you come back to them.
My godson suffers from anxiety and has a “worry box” which he goes through each evening after school.
Get the thoughts out of your head.
The process of putting thoughts out in to the world rather than keeping them in our head – either verbally or in writing – can bring a great deal of relief. The act of working out how to express our thoughts forces us in to our more logical, rational brain which can help change our own perception of the issues and frame possible solutions.
- Write a journal. This is very simple way of getting feelings and worries out of our heads, without any judgement or sensorship. It is also really helpful to review journals after a period of time to see if there are any patterns to the worry (triggers from people, situations, fears), and to raise awareness of when worries and concerns were unfounded.
- Like journal writing, talking to a trusted friend, colleague or family member will help arrange your thoughts, and provide feelings of support and empathy. If you ask them, they may be able to give a different perspective on the situation… but often just having them listen to you will be enough to ease anxiety. Sometimes we don’t want to share our thoughts with those close to us, or don’t want to burden our loved ones – therapy 1-1 or in a group, on-line forums, or medical professionals can be very valuable resources … use them!
An element of worry & stress in our lives is totally normal … they are signs that we have things we care about, that we want to face challenges and overcome them, and that we are engaged with life. But learning how to stop worries taking over and dictating our thoughts and actions is key.
Try the techniques above and let me know how you get on.
Embrace Stress course
Over the years, as an ambitious employee, team focused manager and supportive friend, I developed a deep understanding of the challenges and pressures that we all face not only day to day but also in our long-term health, happiness and career development.