Knowing How to Stop Worrying Is Essential
It seems like just yesterday that I was sitting at my desk in the back of a medical office, assigned a pile of simple insurance claims to process. I kept restarting over and over again, because I just couldn’t focus. I was preoccupied with worry, and had no idea how to stop worrying long enough to do my job.
My worry knew no limits. I worried about money, my career, my husband’s career, my appearance, what others thought of me, my marriage, whose family we would visit for Christmas, if we could coordinate our work schedules to take a trip, or ever afford to buy a house, how we would raise our non-existent children despite our conflicting beliefs.
Worry can be helpful at times, if it motivates us to make a plan to solve a problem. But unchecked, worry can take over our lives. Luckily, chronic worry is a mental habit that I was able to break with some practice, and that you can break too!
When we look at how to stop worrying, we can attack it from two directions. We can take preventative measures, to help reduce the likelihood that we’ll feel worried. We can also make a plan to help manage our worries when we’re in the heat of the moment.
How to Stop Worrying – Preventative Measures
- If the subject of your worry is within your control, take action. If I’m worried about an upcoming move, I can work on reserving a U-Haul, recruiting friends to help with the move, or researching schools in the area. Breaking a big worry into smaller, actionable steps, and then checking those things off my list, can help me to gain some control over the situation. The more control I hold, and the more predictable the future, the less I have to fuel my worry.
- Schedule “worry time”. It’s nearly impossible to simply tell yourself to stop worrying and actually follow through. This technique attempts to restrict your anxiety to a shorter period of time, rather than peppering it throughout your day. So schedule 20-30 minutes of designated “worry time” into each day, preferably in the late afternoon, but not too close to bedtime. As worries fill your mind throughout the day, jot them down to save for your worry time. Then worry as much as you’d like during your 20-30 minute designated window. When your timer runs out, shift your thoughts back away from worries, saving them for the next day’s worry time.
- Use daily positive affirmations to retrain your thought patterns. Did you know that the more you focus on a single thought, the deeper and wider that neural pathway becomes in your brain? That means that if you focus on a negative thought often enough, you’ll “rewire” your brain to automatically default to that negative thought or worry. Kind of crazy, right?! Luckily, focusing on a positive thought can rewire your brain to default to positivity. Check out this post to learn how to create and use your own daily positive affirmations to combat worry.
How to Stop Worrying In the Moment
- When worries feel overwhelming, shift your focus by observing your surroundings. Focus on finding five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This technique is often used to overcome panic attacks, and can be very effective for “unsticking” you from troubling thoughts.
- Practice deep breathing. Breathing deeply decreases your heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and sends a message to your brain to calm down. If you’re somewhere you can stand up and move a bit, try inhaling as you take four steps, then exhaling four more steps. Repeat back and forth for at least three minutes, slowly increasing the number of steps to 6-8 per inhale and exhale if possible. Stuck in your chair? You’ll want to inhale for three seconds, then exhale for three seconds, for at least three minutes.
- Pray. Prayer really puts everything into perspective, including my priorities, my purpose, and God’s ability to work all things for good. In fact, Philippians 4:6-7 (MSG) tells us that prayer will displace our worry. “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”
- Meditate. A 2013 study found that not only does meditation lower anxiety levels, but it also positively affects the regions of the brain that control worry, emotions, and thought. Meditation has also been shown to increase feelings of relaxation, as well as help manage symptoms of sleep problems, tension headaches, depression, and more. You can find a beginner’s guide to meditation here.
- Keep your hands and mind busy. Have a hobby you enjoy? Or something you’ve been putting off doing for weeks? Devoting your focus to something else will make it difficult to continue worrying. When I’m worried about something, I tend to look for a small task around the house. Do the dishes need put away? Laundry folded? Mail sorted? My husband jumps into his workshop to work on gunsmithing, his hobby and side business. It’s very detailed work that requires his full attention, helping him to leave his worries behind. A word of caution, don’t look to Facebook for a distraction. Studies have found that social media actually causes stress and anxiety for many of its users.
- Exercise. This can be both a preventative measure and an in-the-moment management technique. We hate hearing it, but exercise is effective for lessening worry, anxiety, stress, depression, and more. The good news is that you don’t have to join a cross fit gym to reap the benefits. Go for a walk around the neighborhood, explore a local park, or try out an at-home 30-minute workout. Find a workout you enjoy, and you’ll reap the bonus benefit of doing something you really love.
Wrap It Up
By taking preventative measures and making a rock solid in-the-moment plan, we can effectively manage our worry, and take back control of our day and our lives.
Don’t lose another night’s sleep worrying. Make a plan, write it down, and put it into action today. You’ve got this!
P.S. Be sure to download our free How to Stop Worrying workbook, to create a personalized worry management plan and start lowering anxiety today! Get it here.
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