If like me, you frequently wake in the middle of the night with thoughts racing through your head, taming your worries can seem impossible. You know – that voice which helpfully lists all the bad things you did 20 years ago, reminds you that you’ve forgotten the car’s MOT and suggests the corn on your left toe may turn out to be fatal. Because all these things can be fixed at 3 am or in the middle of a meeting, right?!
But, with patience and regular practice, you can become calmer and learn how to take control over your worry as soon as that familiar voice in your head starts nagging.
Here are the strategies you need to nix those annoying worries before they take hold.
Arm yourself with facts
You’ll often find that toxic worry stems from either a lack of information or the wrong information. You could be worrying about something that you don’t fully understand for example.
So, if you want to take control, you’re going to want to arm yourself with facts. Learn everything you can about the thing you’re worrying about.
The more knowledgeable you are about the thing you’re worried about, the less you’ll actually worry.
The caveat to this is where medical matters are concerned. I fully admit I have a longstanding relationship with ‘Doctor Google’ but make sure you check the source of the information, as well as the age of the articles you’re reading. The most sensible thing to do is to consult a trained medical professional. Your ‘Google research’ will at least arm you with a list of questions to ask your doctor. You could write them down and take them to your appointment (or, at the moment, discuss these over the phone or online).
Create a plan
Having a plan in place to combat toxic worry is also a good idea. For this, you’ll need to write down all of the things you’re worried about.
Once you have your worry list, you can start to think of ways to reduce them. Create an action plan for each one of your worries. How can you eliminate the worry and what steps will you need to take?
Creating a little to-do list of things you can do to reduce the worry can also really help. As you tick off the tasks, you’ll start to feel more in control of the situation.
If you’re a journal lover, this is a great excuse to invest in a lovely notebook to keep by the side of your bed to capture those niggling ‘to-do’s’ as soon as they appear.
And, by the way, there’s no reason why you have to do everything on your to-do list yourself. Very often we find ourselves people pleasing and taking on tasks which are really someone else’s responsibility. Take a good long list at your list and ask yourself “should I really be the one sorting this out”? Time for some delegation if not.
For example, if you are overwhelmed with the pressure of working from home and keeping the house tidy, it’s time to come up with a list of chores for your partner and kids and to set firmer boundaries around ‘work’ and ‘home’ time.
Allow yourself small worry windows
Rather than trying to ignore your worries, it can really help to make time to acknowledge them. Try setting aside small windows of time each day during which you let the worries have full rein – say for 20 minutes or so.
The idea behind this is that you train your mind to worry only during these designated periods and then aim to forget about them for the rest of the day.
Whilst this may undoubtedly take some practice, it creates a much healthier balance, ensuring you aren’t burying your head in the sand, but you also aren’t letting your worries take over either.
Challenge your thoughts
Here’s a saying I really love and I quote often to my kids when they are anxious.
“You are not your thoughts”.
You see you create your thoughts and, with practice, you can choose different thoughts.
When you start to notice those negative worrying thoughts, it’s time to challenge them. It’s common to make your worries appear worse than they actually are. You’ll find yourself jumping to the worst conclusion, expecting things to turn out really badly.
The trouble is most of the time these thoughts aren’t factual. You’re literally worrying yourself sick and not leaving yourself open to the possibility that things won’t be as bad as you think.
By challenging your thoughts, you’ll get to see whether your worries are genuine concerns. It also gives you the opportunity to identify healthier, more positive ways to look at the situation. Look at what the probability of the worst-case scenario happening is. Also look at whether the worry is helping or hindering the situation. If it isn’t helping, why are you giving it the power to control you?
However, stopping toxic worrying just because you know it isn’t helping isn’t exactly easy. That’s why you’ll need to work on challenging your negative thoughts and worries every single day.
Sometimes we need a little support to learn how to do this and to put our worries into perspective, by seeking help from trained professionals such as BetterHelp counselors who will listen and gently guide you to the solutions that are best for you.
Interrupt the cycle
A great way to take control of your worries is to interrupt the cycle. When you catch yourself worrying over something, turn your focus to something else.
Exercise is one of the best distraction techniques. As soon as you start to feel that worry building, get up and start moving. The exercise will both interrupt the worry cycle and help you to eliminate built up stress and anxiety. Meditation, deep breathing and reading are also great distractions you can try.
Excessive worrying can have a significant impact on your health and wellbeing but there are ways to tackle and control it. Try some of the ideas above to take control over your troublesome thoughts and start living a happier, healthier life.