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Last Updated on April 17, 2018

How to Stop Worrying About Your Future (and Start Saving Time!)

How to Stop Worrying About Your Future (and Start Saving Time!)

Have you ever lost sleep worrying about something that has yet to happen?

Has worrying about the future interrupted your productivity? Your flow? Your day? Your mood?

If you answered “yes”, you are not alone.

Worry happens to all of us, particularly when it comes to events, people, and things that are important.

The trouble with worry is it is a complete and total waste of our valuable time and energy. We all know that on a logical level, and yet we still worry.

Here’s the good news; while we may never learn how to stop worrying about the future completely, there are ways to help us better manage that worry so we can save ourselves some time. In this article, we’ll go over exactly how to do just that.

Worrying Wastes Time And Energy

“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” –Leo F. Buscaglia

Part of managing worry is being aware of the costs. When we create awareness we are better able to create proactive solutions to minimize or eliminate that cost.

  • Cost #1: Worrying about what has yet to happen uses up valuable mental real estate and time.

“Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere” –Erma Bombeck

  • Cost #2: While worry may give you something to do, you most likely have better things to do with your time and your energy. For example, you could instead focus on your to-do list or notice the multitude of opportunities waiting for you. Focusing on worry not only makes it difficult to handle your to-do list, it also blocks you from seeing those opportunities or the steps that lead to them.
  • Cost #3: Worrying about the future is also an energy drain leaving you susceptible to more worry. Did you know that worry takes advantage of the times when your energy is low? That is when worry is at its most powerful.
  • Cost #4: It is a present moment joy crusher that can lower not just your energy but also your mood.
  • Cost #5: Speaking of mood; worry never gets you anywhere. Worry does not get you to a place where everything is OK. It does not make sure that everything is taken care of. Actually it does the opposite.
  • Cost #6: Worrying about the future creates a vicious loop of more worry about the future.

What does worrying about the future cost you?

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Tried and True Worry Busting Techniques

When I find myself worrying about the future, I use the following techniques to manage the worry. (Just a little side note: I like to switch it up a bit. I use a different technique each time I find myself worried about the future, or worried about anything for that matter.)

Practice Mindfulness

Since worrying about the future pulls us into the future, nothing busts worry faster than some good old fashion present moment mindfulness.

Take a look around and notice what is surrounding you. What do you see? What do you feel? What do you taste? What do you hear? What do you smell?

Taking note of your surroundings by using your senses is an awesome way to pull yourself into the present moment where future-related worry cannot bother you.

Do Deep Breathing

Have you ever noticed your breathing when you are worrying? If not, the next time you are worried about a future-related event check in with your breathing.

Worrying causes our breathing to become shallow. And, deep breathing can help us to relax and get us out of worry mode.

Here are two techniques to use to engage those deep breathes and cue the relaxation:

The first is the 4,4,and 4 technique. Give it a try right now by taking a deep breath in through your nose to a count of four. Then let the breath out through your nose or mouth to a count of four. Do that four times. (Another side note: Be sure to do this technique slowly so you do not hyperventilate or make yourself dizzy.)

The second technique is called Oxytocin Breathing because it actually releases the powerful hormone oxytocin into your brain. This is the same hormone that is released when you are hugging or kissing someone you love or after making love.

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Just a word of caution: you may not want to do this breathing technique in the middle of your busy office or a crowded street. It is best to do it some place private.

Here’s how to do Oxytocin Breathing:

Take a REALLY deep breath so that you are filling up your belly with air. Once you feel your belly expand to the point that you can no longer take in any more air, release it slowly by letting out an audible “Haaaaaaaaaaaahhh”.

Repeat this technique a few times until you feel yourself relaxing.

Check out this video to see the technique in action.

By the way, worry hates deep breathing so this is one of the quickest and the easiest techniques to use.

Express Extra Gratitude

As you are probably already aware, worry creates negative thoughts (and feelings). Gratitude does the exact opposite.

Since your brain can not think positive and negative thoughts at the same time gratitude is an awesome worry buster. Not to mention it’s something you can do any where, any time, especially when you are short on time.

I actually use gratitude when worry wakes me up in the middle of the night. When this happens, I begin listing all the things I am grateful for until I fall back to sleep. It works like a charm.

Similar to the present moment exercise, take a look around.

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Really quickly begin listing at least three things (or more) that you are grateful for. It could be the chair you are sitting in or the sleeping pet at your feet. Just start listing and before you know it the feeling of gratitude will replace the negative feeling that worry causes.

Lean Into “What Ifs”

It is all too common to want to shove worry aside or try and stuff it. Especially when you have a tight project deadline or a calendar full of obligations. Doing so, however, is just an invitation for the worry to stick around even longer.

Rather than try to ignore the worry, lean into by asking yourself the following question, “What if what I’m worrying about were to actually happen?”

Once you have your answer then ask yourself this follow-up question, “Then what would happen?” Keep asking the follow-up question until you have run out of “then what’s”.

I always find that doing this exercise takes the bite out of worry. I also walk away with a plan should what I’m worrying about actually happen. (Which, by the way, usually does not happen.)

Take Back Control

“If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.” — The Dalai Lama

What do you have control over? What can you fix? What can you do to prevent whatever you are worrying about from happening?

For many us worry creates a feeling of being out of control and not safe. Doing things that are within our control helps us to regain those feelings of control and safety.

Tighten and Release

When you are worried, do you often feel a tightness in your stomach or your neck? Use that tightness to help you relax.

It sounds funny, but go ahead and tighten every muscle in your body. Tighten your legs, suck in your stomach, clench your bottom, tighten your arms, and make fists. Hold your muscles in that tight position for just a moment, and then release all your muscles.

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This technique is called Progressive Muscle Relaxation. It combats worry and even stress by creating awareness around what the body feels like when it is in a relaxed state. And when you are in a relaxed state you are not in a state of worry.

Use Worry As A Gauge

Worry serves as a great gauge to let us know what is important and what is not. When you are worrying about something, tune-in to the gauge.

How important is what you are worrying about on a scale of 1-10? If you gave it a 5 or less, ask yourself this question,”Since this thing I’m worried about isn’t super important, what is really driving the worry?”

If you gave it a 5 or higher then it’s time to turn worry into a motivator to start taking action. To help, go back to the Take Back Control technique and ask yourself those questions.

Write or Talk It Out

Getting worry out of your head diminishes it. It is like the old analogy that if you shine a light on bacteria it dies. But if you keep it in the dark it grows.

If you do not feel comfortable talking it out with a friend, family member, coach, or another trusted professional, try writing about it. Get it all out on paper and then throw the paper away.

Writing about your future-related worry takes the charge out of it and creates more clarity and awareness.

Worrying Has Nothing On You

The next time you find yourself worrying about the future:

  • Create awareness around what the worry is costing you.
  • Use one or more of the worry busting techniques.
  • Remember that you are not alone when it comes to worrying (we all do it).

So, there you have it. By following the steps above you’ll be able to have a more worry-free life so that you can reclaim your precious time and get stuff done!

Featured photo credit: Freely via freelyphotos.com

More by this author

Pam Thomas

Chief Change Officer @What's Within U; Helping people dig out from the ruts that keep them stuck personally and professionally.

How to Talk to Strangers When You Feel Crippled With Social Anxiety Writing Journal for a Better and More Productive Self (The How-To Guide) How to Stop Worrying About Your Future (and Start Saving Time!)

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Published on August 14, 2018

20 Coping Skills That Will Help You During Times of Stress

20 Coping Skills That Will Help You During Times of Stress

Few things in life are guaranteed, although I can be quite certain when I say:

  • Someone is going to really annoy you.
  • Someone is going to die and leave you feeling empty and unable to go on.
  • Something out of the blue is going to challenge you to the core of your humanity.
  • Something is going to breakdown and stop working at the most inopportune moment you could imagine.
  • You are going to spend money on something you really don’t want to.
  • You are going to be forced to do something you never thought you’d do.
  • You are going to face a challenge that feels completely soul destroying.

How can you know these things Mandie?

I hear you ask.

Well because as my dear Nan used to say “In every life a little rain must fall.” Looking back as I watched Nan cook a meal worthy of gods or any childhood dream sequence I know I used to struggle with what that saying meant.

Of course some rain must fall, we would die without water, I used to think.

However on the other side of childhood where bills, maintenance, insurance and other boring things exist, I’m pretty sure I get the true meaning of that saying.

The intriguing thing is that I’m a keen reader and find that so much in personal and professional development and in the pursuit of happiness is aimed at ensuring we don’t just have wellies, brollies and waterproofs, to protect us from the rain in life, but that we are so far removed from any wet stuff we can’t appreciate the damage that this polar opposite can also have on our positive existence.

I want to share with you some of the top coping skills for life that aren’t just good for the rainy days, they can have a serious impact on your life.

Into every life, some tough times appear, it is not the tough times that define us, it’s how we deal with them that does.

All very well having great sentiments like that; however when your car has broken down, you feel ill and can’t stop because deadlines are looming, your cat’s puked in your shoes, your phone won’t hold a charge, and they are making people redundant at work it can be hard to have the a positive “Can do” attitude.

Let’s look at what to do (And I promise to make these ideas easy to action, life changing if applied, fast and reliable. Promise):

1. Find it

    I’m a keen believer that if you can’t see what’s going on, I mean really see, then you can’t fix it. I’m often coaching a client who will walk in telling me that X is the issue when 20 minutes later we’ve delved into their minds and discovered that X was just a symptom of the problem.

    And as you probably know treating symptoms and not the actual problem rarely works. The real issue is left to carry on wrecking your health, happiness and mental well being.

    How does this apply in stressful situations? Have you ever had a friend that was pregnant, or you lost or gained weight, or realized that you were “suddenly” in this really bad habit of walking in the door at night and instantly grabbing a cold beverage?

    That didn’t just start, over time that gradually became more prominent. And when things sneak into our lives, be a beautiful baby bump or an unwanted 10lb, it didn’t just land on you overnight.

    2. Ask it

      So to find how you are coping with stressful situations, ask yourself some questions:

      • How do I feel right now on a scale of 1 to 10? (10 being awesome and 1 being awful)
      • Is there a pattern to the way I feel caused by my environment?
      • Is there a pattern to the way I feel caused by my beliefs?
      • Is there a pattern to the way I feel caused by my work?

      Take the time to process your response to these 4 questions. They could become powerful in every aspect of your life.

      3. Notice it

        When we become aware of our surroundings, our situation and the way they make us feel we need to learn to notice the impact of these things.

        Not to start moaning at ourselves and berating us for being lazy, thick, stupid, sloppy, etc, just to notice. Above is about noticing the patterns we create, and this skill is about noticing how it impacts on you.

        • How does it make you feel?
        • How does it make you act?
        • How does it make you behave?
        • How does it make you think?

        At this stage you don’t have to think, do, say or act any differently just notice what happens in stressful situations.

        4. Measure it

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          Peter Drucker famously says,[1]

          “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”

          Therefore when you start to notice how you feel, act and behave in stressful times and have understood more about the way it impacts on you, you are then in a position to create a benchmark graph[2].

          5. Be honest about it

            In stressful situations, we can find ourselves with our heads down in the proverbial sand, with our hands over our ears yelling “la, la, la, la, la”.

            While as kids that’s hilarious to watch kids do that, as we grow up it’s a bit of an ice cold slap in the face that not being honest doesn’t fix anything and stops us from changing things. Be honest as you create the above bench mark graph.

            Being honest is a powerful thing. When you’re honest with yourself, you raise self awareness and anyone looking to achieve anything in the 21st century is going to be determined to improve their own self awareness as we are starting to appreciate the power this can have.

            Although Tasha Eurich[3] shares some scary research on this. Tasha Eurich, author of Insight; Why we’ve not as self aware as we think and how seeing ourselves clearly helps us succeed at work and in life says in an interview for Harvard Business Review that “95% of people believe they’re self-aware, however only about 10-15% actually are.” Adding “The joke I always make is that on a good day, 80% of us are lying to ourselves about whether we’re lying to ourselves.”[4]

            6. Be honest to your world

              In stressful times, it is not just important to be honest to ourselves, it’s important that you’re honest to those that are in your world. Some find that they can do this in their personal life but wouldn’t dream of saying anything at work; whereas others bottle it all up, with a smile and a lie that says “I’m fine.”

              7. If you aren’t fine, say it.

                You don’t have to turn into a moaning black cloud of doom, but being honest helps you and other people.

                Showcasing your own limitations and stress can help other people to see the human that you are. We feel more connected to those that share honestly and are more likely to want to help them and at the very least probably less likely to add more to your work load.

                I worked with someone that was petrified that work would find out how much they were struggling with the work load. This is what the conversation went like (and I’m sharing it so you can ask yourself similar questions):

                Client: “I’m really struggling to hold it together.”

                Me: “Have you told anyone?”

                Client: “I can’t do that, it would be professional suicide. They’d be circling around me ready to pick the bones of my career in seconds.”

                Me: “Do you know that to be true?”

                Client: “It’s not worth the risk to find out.”

                Me: “So if you don’t say something, what are you agreeing to?”

                Client: “Feeling overwhelmed, stressed and about ready to quit.”

                Me: “And are you happy to stay there or would you like to be somewhere else?”

                Client: “Obviously somewhere else, but I can’t see how that’s possible.

                Me: “Are you prepared to explore where you would like to be and how to get there?”

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                You can guess the answer! And using the tools below, guess what they discovered?

                They weren’t alone! It was an issue throughout the department and changes were made for everyone. A bit of honesty can go along way!

                8. Change it

                  In stressful situations, the human being is pre-programmed to do everything in its power to escape the situation it finds itself in.

                  Fight or flight doesn’t really do this pre-programming justice. We are still alive because since the dawn of our time we’ve been able to adapt, change and escape situations that other species succumb to.

                  The issue is that we also fear change. I get more speaking engagements and corporate coaching gigs because people are struggling with change than possibly any other subject. The fact is while we can appreciate change can help in stressful situations, knowing and doing is not the same thing.

                  Ask yourself what could I change about this situation? (This is not what am I going to do, this is about making suggestions about what you could do.) And if they are the suggestions that have been rattling around in your head for the last few weeks, or keep you awake at night, they are less likely to be useful.

                  Really get in touch with your subconscious (and the good ideas) by asking:

                  “If money, time, skill, health, magic, beliefs or values weren’t factors in this situation what could I do?”

                  This enables your mind to explore some whacky ideas, however as Einstein (may have said) Creativity is intelligence having fun. And this exercise enables your mind to have some fun.

                  9. Can’t change it? Don’t.

                    I worked with a large organization that had been through massive change. Everyone had stepped up to the challenge, but everyone was really stressed. Those that were struggling the most kept reminding me that “it hadn’t always been like this”, and “the old way was a lot easier”.

                    Not all change can be controlled. And when we fight it, we can find ourselves escalating stress. Sometimes the most powerful thing you can do is learn to go with the flow.

                    If you don’t “choose” to go with the flow, ask yourself:

                    What are you agreeing to?

                    This questions enables you to see that you are going to get negative emotions, actions, conversations, damaged relationships and even health issues.

                    Change is sometimes dumped on us like a storm clouds contents, you could stand and moan at the storm cloud but it won’t stop you from getting wet.

                    10. Ask yourself: Are you creating it?

                      Some of life’s stresses are man made. And I’m not talking about someone else, I’m talking about you.

                      It is an ugly fact that none of us want to look at (so be brave) however have the strength to ask “Am I creating this stress?”

                      Remember to be honest. And let the answers come to you.

                      11. Know that sh*t happens

                        First spotted in the 60’s, this has been a famous saying since at least the 80’s, why? Because stuff does just happen.

                        As humans we are always looking for reason and understanding. “Why did this happen to me?” and we can often find ourselves down a rabbit run looking for ghosts of answers that just don’t exist.

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                        Sometimes bad stuff happens. This does not define you. This is not a personal vendetta from a god or unseen deity, seriously sometimes all you can do is accept those 2 words – sh*t happens.

                        12. Control it

                          A quick way to find yourself suffering an intenser version of stress is when you try to control it.

                          As a coach, I believe we can get out of situations and move forward, however I also know from the coping skill above that when we try to force the universe to bend in a new way, it can use up a lot of energy concentrating on the wrong things.

                          You can control what you think, you can change your actions, and sometimes the most powerful skill is to accept that this is out of your hands. Self awareness will help you understand the differences and what to do and when.

                          13. Say no

                            We talked about the need to be honest and if you explore this coping mechanism further, you will see that as humans we really want to be liked. We want to get on with our neighbours, or colleagues our friend’s friends. The issue with this in stressful times we really do need to turn around and say things like:

                            • No sorry I can’t help you.
                            • No, now is not a good time.
                            • No, I’m not finding this easy.
                            • No, I can’t do it.

                            The reason we don’t say things like this is because we fear what people think of us. We want to be liked. We don’t want people think we don’t care, which leads me onto the next point.

                            14. Embrace weakness

                              The above statements are often held in our heads unsaid because we don’t want to appear weak, awkward, incapable and a ton of other negatives. The interesting thing is that what we think people are thinking about us is so often untrue.

                              Take the client above that feared telling their boss they were struggling with their work load. On the contrary to looking weak and incapable, the whole department got a makeover. That’s not weak, that’s powerful.

                              Watch out for the incorrect falsehoods that you let hang out in your head. They are making stressful situations a lot harder!

                              The next time it feels weak to be honest or to say no, ask yourself “Does the way I currently think serve me well?”

                              15. Set boundaries

                                Boundaries are important to us all. It feels great when we get on holiday and we can do what we like when we like, however left like that for more than a few weeks and things can disintegrate and fall apart.

                                We need boundaries. And at stressful times, boundaries can really help. They enable you to feel safe to be honest and work and think in a way that helps you and they set out what you will tolerate and deal with and what you wont.

                                Remember creating boundaries is a lot like saying no and most of the negative thoughts you are having around boundaries are imaginary too. If you aren’t going to answer work email at 10pm on a Saturday night, don’t.

                                Establish your boundaries, communicate them and stick by them.

                                16. Get passionate

                                  In stressful times, we can find ourselves living in negative, soul destroying emotions and moods. To the point that we can attempt to numb ourselves from them.

                                  The next time the emotions start to impact on you, think about all of the things that you are passionate about.

                                  No one need know what you are thinking about, so if you find yourself thinking about your dog before your partner, that’s fine.

                                  Get yourself a big old list that makes you smile. Even if the smile doesn’t feel real, your brain is still benefiting. When we get really bogged down in stressful times, it can be hard to believe that we will ever feel good again.

                                  We can’t change everything instantly but interestingly (and I find miraculously), we can change our mindset in the click of a finger. Getting passionate could help you do that.

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                                  17. Ask for it

                                    If you need time, a hug, a conversation, a massage, a run, a nap, a walk, a helping hand, ask for it.

                                    Of all the fears in my book Fight the Fear, so many come back to the fear of what other people will think of us and I’ve heard so many people tell me that they’ve learnt to ask for what they want.

                                    Stop fearing asking for what you need. Learn to accept that asking for what you want not only helps you navigate through stressful times, it also helps you to achieve more in life too.

                                    18. Ditch the guilt

                                      Guilt just loves tough times. It will be able to give you a voice in your head that tells you:

                                      • This is all your fault.
                                      • You never get it right.
                                      • You’ve always failed at this.
                                      • You should have taken better care of that.
                                      • You weren’t good enough to get that job.
                                      • If someone had to go, it had to be you.
                                      • No one sticks around you for long.
                                      • This is you, what were you expecting?

                                      That voice is worse than Cruella Deville, Voldemort and Hannibel Lector combined. It’s intent on destroying your determination and happiness.

                                      Have you noticed how some people go through hell and keep going and others suffer far less and give up? The reason they keep going is not some shot of good fortune, it comes down to the what they let happen in their head. So chuck the guilt.

                                      19. Never hate stress

                                        It’s no good hating stressful times, it won’t make them magically disappear.

                                        Stress is an essential component to your body. Without some stress between bones, muscles, skin, etc you would be a floppy mess on the floor.

                                        Stress can help us grow and learn so much about ourselves. What could you discover about you from the stress you face right now?

                                        20. Start moving

                                          When life feels too tough, we can be tempted to hide our heads under the duvet and say “give me a call in 2050, I will come out when its all over”

                                          Trust me, I include myself in that one.

                                          In my personal life, I’ve seen a lot of awful things this year. Don’t try and be super human, as I read in The Last Highlander, when you face the most horrific of times, just concentrate on getting one foot in front of the other.

                                          Go the extra mile

                                          In stressful times we need people around us that will go the extra mile, and I’m one of those.

                                          Watch out for the sappers of positivity and remember the basics – sleep, eat, breathe – get those in the right measures especially when you are struggling, you see as Nan so wisely knew we can’t hide from tough times, we can’t make them magically disappear, however like a storm cloud it will eventually go away.

                                          And behind it is left that fresh new smell that says, “Mmm anything is possible”

                                          And do you know what?

                                          It is…

                                          Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

                                          Reference

                                          [1]Drucker Institute: About Peter Drucker
                                          [2]Mandie Holgate: Bench Mark Graph
                                          [3]Tasha Eurich: Insight
                                          [4]Harvard Business Review: What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It)

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