In my earlier article, Overthinking and Worry…A Stifling Combination, I spoke about how worry looks and feels. Now, I’d like to dive into some practical techniques I have implemented in my own life when I am faced with worry…while I am patiently (or not so patiently) waiting for my answers…
1. Set aside 15-20 minutes and journal:
Use this “worry time” as a time to visit your thoughts.
Early morning or before you begin your day is much safer than waiting until you are tired, exhausted and stressed from your day.
2. Rethink your thinking:
All-or-nothing thinking, looking at things in black-or-white categories, with no middle ground. “If everything is not perfect, I’m a total failure.”
Overgeneralization from a single negative experience, expecting it to hold true forever. “I didn’t get hired for the job. I’ll never get any job.”
Focusing on the negatives while filtering out the positives. Noticing the one thing that went wrong, rather than all the things that went right. “I got the last question on the test wrong. I’m an idiot.”
Coming up with reasons why positive events don’t count. “I did well on the presentation, but that was just dumb luck.”
Making negative interpretations without actual evidence. You act like a mind reader: “I can tell she secretly hates me.” Or a fortune teller: “I just know something terrible is going to happen.”
Expecting the worst-case scenario to happen. “The pilot said we’re in for some turbulence. The plane’s going to crash!”
Believing that the way you feel reflects reality. “I feel like such a fool. Everyone must be laughing at me.”
Holding yourself to a strict list of what you should and shouldn’t do and beating yourself up if you break any of the rules. “I should never have tried starting a conversation with her. I’m such a moron.”
Labeling yourself based on mistakes and perceived shortcomings. “I’m a failure; I’m boring; I deserve to be alone.”
Assuming responsibility for things that are outside your control. “It’s my fault my son got in an accident. I should have warned him to drive carefully in the rain.”
How to challenge these thoughts:
During your “worry period”, challenge your negative thoughts by asking yourself:
- What’s the evidence that the thought is true? That it’s not true?
- Is there a more positive, realistic way of looking at the situation?
- What’s the probability that what I’m scared of will actually happen? If the probability is low, what are some more likely outcomes?
- Is the thought helpful? How will worrying about it help me and how will it hurt me?
- What would I say to a friend who had this worry?
- Visualize or literally use a shoebox and look down into this box. Imagine the scenario, people involved, dynamics related to your worry. Many times, being able to imagine the dynamics in third person can offer you a better more logical understanding.
3. Distinguish between solvable and unsolvable worries:
Research shows that while you’re worrying, you temporarily feel less anxious. Running over the problem in your head distracts you from your emotions and makes you feel like you’re getting something accomplished. But worrying and problem solving are two very different things.
Problem solving involves evaluating a situation, coming up with concrete steps for dealing with it, and then putting the plan into action. Worrying, on the other hand, rarely leads to solutions. No matter how much time you spend dwelling on worst-case scenarios, you’re no more prepared to deal with them should they actually happen.
Is your worry solvable?
Productive, solvable worries are those you can take action on right away. For example, if you’re worried about your bills, you could call your creditors to see about flexible payment options. Unproductive, unsolvable worries are those for which there is no corresponding action. “What if I get cancer someday?” or “What if my kid gets into an accident?”
If the worry is solvable, start brainstorming. Make a list of all the possible solutions you can think of. Try not to get too hung up on finding the perfect solution. Focus on the things you have the power to change, rather than the circumstances or realities beyond your control. After you’ve evaluated your options, make a plan of action. Once you have a plan and start doing something about the problem, you’ll feel much less anxious.
If the worry is not solvable, accept the uncertainty. If you’re a chronic worrier, the vast majority of your anxious thoughts probably fall in the fear of the unknown category. Most of us don’t describe the unknown as warm and fuzzy and fight it tooth and nail. Worrying is often a way we try to predict what the future and play God. We try to prevent unpleasant surprises and control the outcome. It is virtually impossible! Obsessing about all the things that could go wrong doesn’t make life any more predictable. Focusing on worst-case scenarios will only keep you from enjoying the positive and good things right there in front of you. To stop worrying, tackle your need for certainty and immediate answers.
- Predicting the outcome to be negative based on uncertainly sets you up for ultra-worrying! Predicting gloom and doom because there are no clear-cut guarantees keeps you stuck in the world of negativity. You will soon find yourself alone.
- Given the likelihood is very low, is it possible to live with the small chance that something negative may happen. Everyone faces negativity – learn to live with it. Facing difficult times helps grow productive people.
- Not asking for advice, opinions, feedback and not exposing your vulnerabilities reads to most people as a self-serving know it all egotistical pain in the butt type if person. Ask your friends and family how they cope with uncertainty in specific situations. You are not the only person who faces uncertainly and worry. Other perspectives can sometimes shove you into another direction and prove you are human.
If you are feeling stuck and need to talk, I would love to meet you! Email or call anytime to schedule a session. (817) 701-5438 | firstname.lastname@example.org
CRT, CCDC, CACC | Counselor & Life Coach
Empowering individuals, families and communities to grow and heal through advanced approaches in Creative Arts Therapy, setting the standard for treatment, practice and training within the field.