As much as worry and fear can bring us to our knees sometimes, much of what people get challenged by is not about life changing, catastrophic events but rather the smaller things and the meaning that is made of them. Many suffer unnecessarily when their nervous systems are hijacked by worry and it usually doesn’t serve them well.
Your thinking can get fuzzy and convince you there is reason to panic as it feels like an emergency! If core beliefs developed long ago in your family of origin get caught up into this, it’s even more complicated. For example, consider how failure for someone who is perfectionistic and operates under the belief that they have to do things perfectly could impact them. Worries such as these can feel overwhelming because there is a lot at stake for us emotionally.
Here are some other examples of worries involving self-esteem:
- “I’m worried about meeting this group of respectable people in my field. What if I don’t measure up?”
- “I’m worried about my blind date tonight. What if he/she doesn’t like me?”
- “I’m worried about my presentation at work tomorrow. What if I fall apart?”
If you allow this type of worry to consume you, it is not only distressing but can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy if you behave as if it’s already true.
If you aren’t particularly vulnerable to the above type of worries, you may still find yourself suffering unnecessarily with the “small stuff” type of worries. These are the situations where at the end of the day, does it really, truly matter? And in some of these situations you may actually have zero control over them yet you still get physiologically activated and panicked.
- What if there is traffic?
- What if it rains?
- What if there is no parking?
- What if the game is cancelled?
Here are 6 ways to stop worrying:
- Stop getting ahead of yourself. If you live as if the future has already happened you are having an emotional reaction (worry) to something that hasn’t happened yet. Practice staying in the moment by trying this:
- Focus on an object in the room with you. Notice it in a way you never have before. What color is it? What shape is it? Is it possibly more beautiful than you realized? Breathe slowly.
- Put your hand over your heart. If you are worried, stressed or fearful, it’s likely your fight or flight system is activated and your cortisol levels are elevated. Oxytocin is an antidote to the stress hormone, cortisol. Many people can release it themselves.
- Place your hand over your heart, close your eyes and imagine someone you feel completely safe with. A beloved pet will work too. As you remember feeling loved, sit with this feeling for at least 30 seconds. Notice the calm.
- Practice self acceptance. Because worry can orbit around an unsure sense of self, it’s important to try shifting your self concept from negative to positive.
- Decide on an affirmation for yourself (ex: I am lovable, I will be ok, etc). Every day, either say this affirmation aloud or in your head to help integrate this belief into your heart and mind.
- Reframe your worry. Remember that your perceptions drive your worry. You are the only one who can assign your meaning to things. If you assign worry to a lot of things try to practice reframing it to something more productive.
- Consider something you often worry about. Is there another way you can see this situation? What is the worst thing that can happen if your worry is true. Is it the end of the world? Is there a solution or fix? Pick your worry battles.
- Find a trusted sounding board. A friend can be called upon to help clarify your thinking. Get someone on your team, explain what you’re working on and how they can help. When you find yourself worrying, call on them to help you process.
- Identify what keeps you stuck – and work on it. If you’ve tried the above suggestions and are not finding relief, a therapist can help you get unstuck. There may be prior experiences in your family of origin that explains why it’s more challenging for you. If going to therapy not an option for whatever reason, try my guide Family of Origin: Untangle Your Unhealthy Roots to help identify, understand and resolve relevant emotional wounds on your own.
Worry and fear are all valid human emotions. But living in a chronic or easily triggered state of either of them can lead to unnecessary suffering. Learning not to sweat the small stuff is a hallmark of resilience and guaranteed improvement in your emotional health as a whole.
Lastly, keep in mind that worry and fear can morph into clinical anxiety which if persistent enough may need additional resources for relief. The above exercises can help but if not sufficient, find a therapist for the support you need.
You can hear Lisa talk more about this topic in Episode 4 of her Therapy 365 podcast, How to Handle Worry.
If you are a resident of California needing help managing your worry, learn about my Marin Therapy practice. If you are outside of the state, the Psychology Today Therapist Directory is a good resource.