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Last Updated on December 15, 2020

How to Stop Worrying About the Future: 8 Practical Techniques

How to Stop Worrying About the Future: 8 Practical Techniques

Have you ever lost sleep worrying about something that has yet to happen? Has worrying about the future interrupted your productivity or your mood? If so, it’s time to learn how to stop worrying with some simple techniques.

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

While anxieties are a normal part of life, worry is a waste of our valuable time and energy. We get into a worry cycle of considering worst case scenarios that will almost certainly never come to pass.

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.

How 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 and improve our mental health through relaxation techniques.

What does worrying about the future cost you?

  • Worrying about what has yet to happen uses up valuable mental real estate and time.
  • 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.
  • Worrying about the future is also an energy drain leaving you susceptible to more worry. Worry is at its most powerful when your energy is low.
  • It is a present-moment joy-crusher that can lower not just your energy but also your mood.
  • Worry does not get you to a place where everything is OK. Actually, it does the opposite.
  • Worrying about the future creates a vicious cycle of more worry about the future.

8 Ideas on How to Stop Worrying

When I find myself worrying about the future, I use the following techniques to manage the worry.

1. Practice Mindfulness

Since worrying about the future pulls us into the future, nothing busts worry faster than some present moment mindfulness to get us in control of our thoughts and emotions.

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Take a look around and notice what is surrounding you. Use your five senses to describe your immediate surroundings.

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

Here is a simple guide on mindfulness for beginners.

2. Do Deep Breathing

Have you ever noticed your breathing when you are worrying? If not, the next time you are experiencing worrisome thoughts about a future-related event, check in with your breathing.Chronic worrying can affect our physical health if we let it extend into the long-term. Worrying causes our breathing to become shallow, and deep breathing can help us to relax, decrease anxious thoughts and get us out of worry mode.

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

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. Hold it for four, and then let the breath out through your nose or mouth to a count of four. Do that four times.

Be sure to do this technique slowly so you do not hyperventilate or make yourself dizzy.

Oxytocin Breathing

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.

Here’s how to do Oxytocin Breathing:

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Take a very 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. Worry hates deep breathing, so this is one of the quickest and the easiest techniques to use.

3. Express Extra Gratitude

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

Since your brain cannot think positive and negative thoughts at the same time, gratitude is a great technique to use when you want to learn how to stop worrying. Not to mention, it’s something you can do anywhere and any time, especially when just have a few spare minutes.

I often 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.

To get started, take a look around. 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.

Before you know it, the feeling of gratitude will replace the negative feeling that worry causes.

You can get more ideas from this list of 40 simple ways to practice gratitude.

4. Lean Into “What Ifs”

It is all too common to want to shove worry aside, 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, so it’s not an effective way to learn how to stop worrying.

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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.

5. 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 of 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.

6. Tighten and Release

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

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.

This technique is called Progressive Muscle Relaxation[1]. It combats worry and stress by creating awareness around what the body feels like when it is in a relaxed state.

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7. Use Worry as a Gauge

Worry serves as a great gauge to let us know what is important and what is not. When you want to learn how to stop worrying, 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 very 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.

8. 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 your worry and emotions 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.

Final Thoughts

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).

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 stay productive.

More on How to Stop Worrying

Featured photo credit: Gabrielle Henderson via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] University of Michigan: Stress Management: Doing Progressive Muscle Relaxation

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 January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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