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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.

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Last Updated on October 12, 2018

How to Tell Symptoms of Social Anxiety And What to Do About It

How to Tell Symptoms of Social Anxiety And What to Do About It

Social Anxiety Disorder (formerly known as Social Phobia) can be a significant hurdle to your happiness, health, and ability to achieve your potential in relationships and at work

Here’s a common scenario:

You’re the kind of person that likes others. You want friends, you want to hang out with your co-workers for hors d’oeuvres after work, and you definitely don’t want someone to hang out with on Friday nights. You just can’t make your reality fit with your wishes.

Here’s one scenario that often happens: after wish you could be bold at work, make friends, and ask for that raise, the minute you’re invited to golf with your boss, do a presentation for the team, or come to a friend’s anniversary party…you bail out. You don’t feel smart enough, worthy enough, prepared enough…it is never enough…so you say “no’ to the very thing you wish you could do.

So, on one hand, you’re happy because you got to avoid the anxiety-provoking personal encounter, but you’re simultaneously miserable because – yet one more time – you didn’t go after what you want most. This can hurt your self-esteem even further, which only makes you less apt to try again the next time.

The vicious cycle can go on for years on end. Clearly, this disorder has the potential to rob you of your health or prevent you from meeting your goals at work and having positive, healthy relationships.

But here’s the good news about Social Anxiety Disorder – you don’t have to let it rob your future!

Is It Social Anxiety Disorder?

First, let’s figure out what we’re dealing with.

The Fancy Definition 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Social Anxiety Disorder (formerly known as Social Phobia) is an “intense, persistent fear of being noticed and judged by others” to the degree that it can prevent you from reaching your potential at work and other areas of your life.  

It’s not “just” being shy. The anxiety must last over six months and cause “considerable impairment” in your life, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (5th ed.).[1] In addition, the anxiety must be constant, intense, and disabling to qualify. 

You’re not the only one!

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According to Social Phobia org, social anxiety is the third- largest mental health issue in the world, and affects 7% of US citizens.[2] It often (not always) begins around middle school which is inherently a period of intense self-consciousness. 

The Theories

Research is still divided on the cause of Social Anxiety Disorder, but some theories indicate there is a genetic/inheritable component while others argue that it can be a learned behavior.

Others believe the problem is multi-determined and can be a combination of genetics, social learning, and other factors combined. 

10 Scenarios That are Potential Triggers 

The Social Anxiety Association lists several scenarios that can be triggers for your anxiety including these common ones:[3]

  • Being teased or criticized
  • Being the center of attention
  • Being watched or observed
  • Having to say something in a formal, public situation
  • Meeting people in authority (“important people/authority figures”)
  • Feeling insecure and out of place in social situations (“I don’t know what to say.”)
  • Feeling embarrassed (e.g., blushing, shaking)
  • Meeting other peoples’ eyes
  • Swallowing, writing, talking, making phone calls if in public
  • Being introduced to other people

3 Major Symptom Categories

When we encounter our triggers, sufferers tend to become symptomatic. According to Psycom, there are 3 main categories of symptoms for this disorder:

  1. Physical symptoms: racing heart, dizziness, stomach trouble, blushing, sweating, trembling, and dry mouth
  2. Emotional Symptoms: panic attacks, poor body image, nervousness, high levels of anxiety and fears.
  3. Behavioral Symptoms: Avoiding places/situations where you think you will be the center of attention; not pursuing activities for fear of embarrassment; becoming isolated, quitting school or a job, substance abuse.

NIMH adds that poor eye contact, mind going blank, speaking softly, self-consciousness, and feeling awkward are also commonplace. Remember: these symptoms can be “normal” – we are looking only for a situation where it is prolonged and a true hinderance to functioning!

What To Do About It

The important factor is to do something about your Social Phobia as it can become more self-perpetuating over time. Here’s are a few ideas of how to get started.

1. Ask a Doctor

Don’t self diagnose, ask a doctor. Reach out!

If you are concerned that social anxiety is preventing you from reaching your full potential, then seek consultation from a mental health professional or medical provider. Don’t suffer in silence!

Fewer than 5% of people with social anxiety seek treatment after their symptoms begin and, in fact, 1/3 of sufferers report having symptoms for ten years or more before reaching out for help. 

This is a needless impediment to your wellbeing, because studies indicate that this condition is highly treatable. In fact, one study claims an 85% improvement and sometimes full recovery after treatment! [4]

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A family doctor, internal medicine physician, psychologist, or psychiatrist are among the types of providers experienced in diagnosing and treating Social Anxiety Disorder. Be sure to check reviews and recommendations in your community.

Insider Tip!

Experienced mental health providers always ensure that other factors aren’t the cause of your problem before assigning a psychiatric diagnosis. Many medical issues, medications, and even substance abuse can mimic psychiatric issues so it is essential to rule these out first. 

Special note: Make sure your provider considers all angles without making any assumptions because some people truly do have both genuine psychiatric symptoms and a coincidental medical problems which can mimic it. 

Diagnostics can get complex, so this is why only a credentialed provider should diagnose your concerns! 

What Should You Expect?

Most providers will conduct an intake evaluation where they will take a thorough history, check your symptoms against the DSM-5 criteria, provide you with an anxiety checklist or other type of self-report test instrument, and review your medical records to name a few possibilities.

Be prepared to speak honestly about your history as the more data, the more accurate your diagnosis and recommendations will be. There are also resources, by Mayo Clinic and others, which provide some of the questions you might be asked. Preparation can certainly help with your anxiety about the interview. [5] 

2. Treatment Options

Here are some ways to try to regain your health!

Psychiatric Treatments

The most common types of treatment for social anxiety are psychotherapy, medication, or some combination thereof. 

If you elect to take medication, your doctor can help you decide which one is right for you. Be sure to ask about how long it will take to notice improvement, any potential side effects, and how to weigh the risks versus benefits of the medication.

As for psychotherapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a common option and NIMH found particularly good outcomes using cognitive therapy combined with a behavioral therapy group.[6]

While the prospect of a group treatment might seem terrifying, it is deemed important so you can work on your symptoms in real-life scenarios with other group members.

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What is the goal of psychiatric treatment? 

A good goal to aspire to in the treatment of Social Anxiety Disorder is to decrease symptoms, learn to reframe negative thoughts about yourself, developing confidence in social situations, which in the end should help you develop the type of friendships, relationships, jobs, and other opportunities that you previously could not negotiate on your own.

Alternatives

Some organizations are proponents of alternative medicine as an adjunctive treatment. Treatments such as massage, meditation, mindfulness, hypnotherapy, and acupuncture are common place. 

NAMI also suggests various self-management strategies (identifying one specific time to worry during the day, becoming an expert on your triggers, etc.); stress and relaxation techniques (e.g., breathing exercising, focused attention), and yoga (physical postures, breathing, and meditation). Exercise, like in many other areas, is also recommended but check with your doctor before starting an exercise plan.[7]

3. Community Support

Many churches, clubs, and local organizations provide support and healing opportunities for Social Anxiety Disorder. 

The National Alliance of Mental Health provides educational and support resources to those with mental illness including social anxiety at 1-800-950-NAMI or info@nami.org

4. Help Yourself!

NAMI and other organizations provide many ideas for self-help as a first step or as an adjunct to formal treatment. Here are some  ideas for being proactive in your care:

  1. Become educated about medication and treatment options. 
  2. Know your personal triggers and stressors and plan ahead. 
  3. Actively participate in your treatment. 
  4. Don’t QUIT if it isn’t helping. Keep at it until something does.
  5. Live a healthy lifestyle – engage in exercise and de-stressors and watch your diet.
  6. Avoid drugs and alcohol as they affect emotional balance, sleep, and can interactive with medication. *This includes too much caffeine!
  7. Join online discussion groups.

Practice Makes Improvement (If Not Perfect)

Mayo recommends that sufferers participate in social situations by being with those you feel comfortable around.  Then, slowly increase the “risk” by branching out a bit more. Rather than throw yourself into a wild frat party, you might first want to take a small interesting class where the teacher does most of the talking.

You might find that these are “safe” settings to meet people since it is highly structured and there is inherently a reason to speak with your peers. It also levels the playing ground as all of you are “new” in this social setting. [8]

Mayo further suggests that you actually practice socializing, just as you might practice piano. Here are some examples they suggested:

  • Eat with a close relative, friend or acquaintance in a public setting.
  • Purposefully make eye contact and return greetings from others, or be the first to say “hello”.
  • Give someone a compliment.
  • Ask a retail clerk to help you find an item.
  • Get directions from a stranger.
  • Show an interest in others — ask about their homes, children, grandchildren, hobbies or travels, for instance.
  • Call a friend to make plans.

While these might seem like basic tasks to our more extroverted friends, this can be seemingly unsurmountable to our friends with Social Anxiety Disorder!

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Be Kind (To Yourself)

Learning these new social skills is taxing. Remember to be kind to yourself along the way. Mayo suggests that you spend some time with people you already know and feel comfortable with such as long-term friends and family. 

Another idea is to engage in pleasurable activities and hobbies when you’re anxious. 

Remind yourself that anxiety doesn’t last forever and that you have survived it before and will survive it again. 

Never, Ever Give Up

As you begin your treatment strategies, don’t give up. Don’t ever, ever give up. 

Social Anxiety Disorder, as we stated earlier, is a treatable disorder, so every single small step gets you further to your end goal.

Remember: As you practice, you will invariably fail and have set-backs. It is normal so just expect it! Progress isn’t linear– it occurs with step-by-step small gains over time. 

The Future You

Remember that the best time to start is now. Be a strong, stubborn, tenacious self-advocate. Get help if needed to take the step toward wholeness and healing now!

No matter whether your goal is having close friends, being more effective at work, or even finding a new relationship partner, being able to successfully connect with others can indeed transform a lonely, frustrating life into a more fulfilling one.

Take the step.

Featured photo credit: Eric Ward via unsplash.com

Reference

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