Have you ever lost sleep to worrying, dreaming up a series of scenarios for what could do wrong? Don’t worry – you’re not morbid or a pessimist. Anxiety is a natural evolutionary response to a perceived threat, and worrying is your way of taking control over an otherwise uncertain situation. Worrying is a form of planning for the worst, and preparing accordingly.
In that sense, worrying can be productive. It’s a self-soothing mechanism when you are scared, sad, or angry about events beyond your immediate control. However, anxiety is also linked to depression and a host of physical symptoms, including insomnia, digestive disorders, and headaches.
Worrying is an illusory form of control. If anxiety is negatively impacting your life, it’s time to consider how you can stop worrying so much and get back to living boldly.
Carve out 15 minutes a day to worry, and only worry. When time’s up, you’re done. If worries start creeping into your day at other times, tell yourself you can think about it during your ‘Worry Time.’ Soon you’ll realize how much time is wasted by worrying, especially when you are worrying about the same things over and over again.
Worrying is a form of preparing yourself to face challenging situations. So go ahead, think of the worst case scenario and how you might respond. For example, let’s say you are losing sleep over a big presentation coming up at work. What’s the worst case scenario? You could completely bomb, forgetting your notes and having trouble getting the projector to work. People might laugh.
In most cases, you can survive the worst case scenario. So don’t worry too much about it.
On the flip side, worry can be combatted against with an optimistic outlook. So if that same upcoming work presentation is causing you anxiety, it can be equally helpful to consider all the potential wonderful outcomes: your boss notices what an asset you are to the company, you increase credibility with your colleagues, and you might even discover a talent for public speaking.
You can sit around agonizing over how to handle a certain situation or project, but the best way to alleviate worry is to tackle the issue head on. Remember, worrying is a form of planning, but it’s a waste of time if you don’t follow up with specific actions.
In other words, in order to stop worrying about how to do something, you need to get busy doing it.
When you are hyper-focused on worrying about one thing, it takes over your life. This kind of tunnel vision causes you to lose perspective. A college student might be tormented over a single paper, forgetting it’s ONE assignment for ONE class for ONE semester. So, yes, this might be a crucially important paper – perhaps the paper that will be the difference between passing or failing a class – but in no way is it the Single Most Important Event of this person’s life.
Get out of your own head by distracting yourself with other activities you enjoy – working out, listening to music, going out for a nice meal, or meeting up with a friend.
Sometimes the quickest way to manage anxiety is to call on your support network. Find a family member, friend, or trusted colleague with whom you can openly discuss what you are worried about.
A good source of support is a person who does not minimize your concerns, big or small, offers advice when asked, and listens without judgment.
A good way to stop worrying about your own problems is to help someone with theirs. Halt your internal dialogue about all of your worries by asking a friend, “How are you?” and really listening.
Consider volunteering your time with an animal rescue or homeless shelter, and shift your focus on helping other people contend with their personal struggles.
Relentless anxiety might be a sign of a medical condition, warranting a visit to the doctor or a licensed mental health professional. If anxiety is interfering with your quality of life, there is absolutely nothing wrong with approaching it the same as you would any illness and seeking medical help.
Alternatively, you can schedule an appointment with a trusted clergy member or similar spiritual authority if you are someone who derives strength from your faith.
In addition to setting aside time to worry, consider writing out your anxious thoughts in a journal. Sometimes seeing something on paper helps us better digest the information. Additionally, if you write down what you are worried about, over time you will likely notice a pattern in specific anxieties and your triggers.
By recording your worries, you will get bored of them, acknowledge the worst case scenario rarely (if ever) come to pass, and understand how to anticipate and cope with specific people or situations who cause you to worry in the fist place.
You know the saying, “Count your blessings”? Anxiety is related to fear, stress, anger, and a sense of desperation. Worrying about what you may or may not lose seems less productive when forcing yourself to remain cognizant of what you already have.
So while you may not get that promotion you’ve been angling for, you might instead be grateful for secure employment with a paycheck that allows you to support yourself and your family.
It’s fine if you’re not a naturally anxiety-free person. History is full of plenty of distinguished persons who had to train themselves to stop worrying in order to accomplish great things. Abraham Lincoln, Sir Isaac Newton, and Sigmund Freud are all said to have struggled with anxiety disorder.
Eleanor Roosevelt overcame debilitating shyness to become the First Lady of the United States and a world-famous humanitarian. She advised, “You have to accept whatever comes and the only important thing is that you meet it with courage and with the best that you have to give.”
Ultimately, the best option might be exposure therapy; challenge yourself to face your fears, big and small, until you no longer worry about their potential impact on your life. If you’re afraid of flying, book a flight, or even consider taking a flying lesson. If you worry about giving presentations at work, join a public speaking group.
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