chronic worry

Chronic Worrier, Anybody?

Ryu K/

Ryu K/

No doubt, we all worry. What is that person going to think of me? Am I going to make this work deadline? What if it rains tomorrow and we need to take the party inside? When there's an actual threat of something going awry, worrying can be helpful because it motivates us into planning ahead and changing the things we can.

However, often times, worrying stems from a perception or a fear of things going wrong. It then becomes unhelpful when we're worrying for the sake of worrying, or when we think that worrying can somehow help us cope with life's problems. We get caught up in this endless loop.

Here are some ways to interrupt the cycle of chronic worrying:

  1. Identify your triggers – what gets you worrying in the first place? Then what thoughts and feelings did you have next? If you don't recognize the cycle, you can't stop it.

  2. Ask yourself, “Is there a problem to be solved?” – if you legitimately need to work a few extra hours to meet the deadline or come up with a plan B for the party, do it! If not, notice that your mind is playing the “worry tape” again.

  3. Drop the struggle - “Don't worry, be happy!” If this had worked, we wouldn't have 40 million people in the US struggling with some form of anxiety. Intentionally trying to stop thinking about something only makes you think about it more. Try it now. Don't think about a white polar bear. What happens? You think about a white polar bear. It's not about fighting with your thoughts, but letting them come and go.

  4. Notice your thoughts – is your mind feeding you worries that are “what if's,” unhelpful patterns that you can do little about? If so, acknowledge those thoughts again and again, but choose to not engage further. One way to do so, according to the tradition of Acceptance Commitment Therapy, is to say, “Thanks mind!” This may sound weird at first, but try it! You're re-training your mind and flexing that muscle differently, with time.

  5. Stay in the present – worrying takes you into the future that has not yet happened and that likely won't happen the way you envision it. Thus, when you find your mind drifting to the worries of the unknown future, bring your mind back to the here and now, over and over again. Come back to this moment, the only moment you have to live in and can do something about.

  6. Accept the unknown – you want things to happen a certain way: to arrive home accident-free, for the cake to not topple over, to win the project bid... Who doesn't? Yet, there are so many things you have little control over. Acknowledge that you are limited, still make plans, but hold them loosely. 

Here's an earlier post on what to do with runaway thoughts

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