Tips to Stop Worrying and Reduce Anxiety
Ambiguity causes anxiety. When you don’t know what’s happening or might happen, you go into “what-if” thinking mode. If it’s in response to a real problem, these types of thoughts can be a helpful way for you to identify a solution and take action. However, for some people, anxiety may surface when nothing is currently wrong. These thoughts then become unhelpful worrying or anxious thoughts.
Stop Worrying by Managing What-If Thinking
People with anxiety tend to have “what if” thoughts when there is nothing wrong. Anxious thoughts can be convincing, but you need to learn to tell yourself, “my anxious thoughts aren’t true or valid.” The key is to check whether the anxiety is about something that is happening now or something that might happen. If you got put on probation at work, your anxious thoughts about your job are valid. If there is no clear evidence right now that things are wrong at work, your anxiety is getting the better of you.
Check to see why your anxious thinking might be useful and challenge it until you are clear that the anxious thought is not helpful. For example, suppose you’re anxious about your partner leaving you. Worrying about it now might help you feel more prepared when the bad news comes. Now challenge: will you be less able to pack your belongings and find a new place to live if you haven’t been worrying about it? Will you be less devasted? No! In fact, constant worrying may be taking a negative toll on your relationship.
Make a plan. If you are worried that something might happen and there is actual evidence that it’s valid (your company is laying people off), decide how you will handle the situation. Identify the problem, decide on the goal, brainstorm solutions and select one option. If you continue the what-if worry tell yourself, stop! I have a plan.
What type of what-if thinking do you have?
Rumination: chewing on an idea without resolving it. Does your worry relate to a previous life experience? Perhaps you worry about not being a good enough parent, and your parents were neglectful of you when you were a child. Replace your negative thought with an affirmative statement that challenges the negative thought. “I have been a caring and involved parent so far, and I will continue to be. I can break the pattern.”
Thoughts of home or workplace danger: did I leave the oven on? This type of thought is often the result of inattentiveness due to the preoccupied, anxious mind. Rather than being in the present, these type of worriers are in the future and performing everyday tasks on autopilot. The best antidote is to pay attention to the present moment out loud: I am turning off the oven, I am getting my wallet. I am locking the door. Then practice working on mindfulness skills to strengthen your ability to stay in the present moment.
Hypochondria thoughts – fearing physical symptoms are a sign of disease. This can get worse if you begin researching symptoms online. Say the fear out loud and share with someone else. Try not to research it online, if it is serious your symptoms will be serious symptoms that you can’t ignore and signs you need to seek out help now. For lesser symptoms ask, “what would be the sign that this is important?” Perhaps the symptom is getting worse, that could be a sign that it is important. Check your symptoms at a later time to look for this sign (a rash spreading for example).
Rumination about too much to do. Sometimes responsibilities are burdensome, but people who have difficulty prioritizing, planning, or following through may feel overwhelmed even without an exceptional burden of work. To address this type of worry: 1) make a plan and follow it. 2) do the worst first. 3) make a list with time frames.
When You Can’t Stop Worrying: Contain Your Worry
- If you are needing reassurance from others, remind yourself that you are competent to handle problems. Even if the worst happens, you’ll be able to deal with it.
- If you worry about panic remind yourself that you’ll get through it. You may want to escape, but you won’t die, go crazy or lose control. In fact, an anxiety therapist in Houston can help train you in exercises you can do to control the symptoms of panic when they surface.
- If you have social anxiety remind yourself, “even if you show some anxiety, you know how to get through it. And remember, people are more accepting than you think.”
Clear Your Mind Technique to Manage Excessive Worry
If you feel your mind jumping around or find it hard to stop it from running down a track, try this:
- Imagine a container sitting in front of you. It’s a container that can hold all of your concerns. The container is open and ready to receive whatever you want to put into it.
- Now think about (but don’t mull over) all the things that are pressing on your awareness or asking for your attention. Give each thing a name.
- When everything has been named and put in the container, place the lid on the container and set it aside.
- If the next thing you want to do is sleep, invite a peaceful thought into your mind.
- If you want to focus on something, invite into your mind thoughts about what your focus is.
Other versions of the container exercise:
- The list: write your thoughts in the form of a list (one or two words for each thought). Put the list in a drawer or other place out of sight (and mind).
- The God box: this technique comes from Al-Anon. Put each thought on a slip of paper, put it in a box and turn it over to God.
- Pictures in a backpack: this works well for children. Draw a picture of thoughts or worry and place it in a backpack or worry box. Periodically open the box and learn that worries pass and if bad things happened, remind the child that they got through it.
- Worry dolls: Guatemalan dolls in a box or bag. Give each doll a worry, close the box and the doll will carry the worry away. You can purchase worry dolls online here.
Can’t Stop Worrying? Anxiety Treatment Can Help
When there is a real problem or situation, worry is normal. However, if you struggle with anxiety, your brain may prompt you to worry when there is nothing wrong. If this sounds like you, you can benefit from anxiety counseling! With anxiety treatment in Houston, your therapist can help you learn to calm physical anxiety, cope with anxious thoughts and feelings, and create a compassionate relationship with yourself.
** Strategies adapted from:
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