Mindset

10 Simple Strategies to Stop Worrying

Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere.

Glenn Turner

 

 

If you’re a worrier, I can’t blame you. Life is complicated. Sometimes worrying feels like the only thing we can do to gain some measure of control in our chaotic lives.

Yet research continually warns us that worry compromises our health and may even make us die younger. Pretty serious consequences in my books. And ironic. Seems there is good reason to worry about worrying.

Plus, there’s the futility of it. Worry doesn’t actually solve anything. But when you have ADD, you don’t always have control over where your mind goes.

It can be damn hard to stop worrying. You’re not stupid. You know you shouldn’t worry so much. But if you could just stop it, you would. It’s not a mindset you choose – it’s a habit you fall into. And for good reason. The primitive part of your brain thinks that worry actually helps you survive.

Truthfully, your ability to survive and thrive is much better served by clear thinking and decisive action. Who doesn’t want to rid themselves of worry-fog and start thinking clearly? But how?

You can, with the right strategies.

I’m going to give you some tried, tested and true techniques to help you get relief from worrying.

They work. I know this because they are the cornerstone of CBT (Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy), grounded in research and an evidence-base for effectiveness with worry. I have also used them successfully in my own life and taught countless clients to do the same.

And they’re simple to use. Practice them at least 10 minutes every day to start clearing your head and letting worry go. Most of them you can start doing right now.

So grab a paper and pen.

 

1. Write it out

We ruminate over problems because we need to make sense of our lives. It is subconsciously alluring to mull over problems until they are solved, but worry seldom finds the resolutions we need.

Writing worries down puts problems into perspective, makes them clearer and sometimes elucidates solutions. The physical act of writing gets free-floating worry out of your head and captures it on paper. Your mind is reassured – letting go of worry is okay, because your concerns won’t be forgotten or ignored.

 

2. Correct Your Thinking

Now that you have written your worries out, look them over. See if you notice any distortions in what you have written. Many of the worries we have are made greater in our minds because of errors in thinking. Everyone makes these follies from time to time, but when we worry, we do a lot of these:

 

Jumping-to-conclusions – Thinking we know how things truly are, without having any concrete evidence. Your partner didn’t answer his phone, it must mean he’s been in an accident.

Mind-reading – This is assuming we know what is going on in other people’s minds, or that we are privy to their true intentions. Your friend’s flippant comment means he disapproves of your girlfriend.

Fortune-telling – We use past experiences to fuel our assumption that we know how things are going to turn out in the future. This happened once before, so I know it will happen again.

Catastrophizing – Jumping-to-conclusions of the most severe kind. A job loss doesn’t mean temporary unemployment – it means dire straits.

Magnifying – Blowing the negative aspects of a situation out of proportion. Because the turkey was cremated, Christmas Day was a disaster.

Minimizing – The opposite of magnifying. In this case we minimize the positives in a situation, or disregard how well things turned out despite the negatives. I got a B on the exam, but if I studied more I would have got an A.

All-or-nothing – Seeing the situation as being all good or all bad, noticing nothing in-between. I have done nothing with my life, it’s pointless.

 

When you find a distortion, write out an equal but more balanced thought. For example:

“Yes, I’ve lost my job but I have the skills to find another one. And if I need help, I will get it”. See, not the end of the world anymore. Take that primitive brain!

Important note: even if you don’t believe that thought right now, write it out anyway. Worry is allergic to brains that try to think outside of it.

 For more information about Cognitive Distortions, check out the work by CBT Godfather Aaron Beck and his protege David Burns.

3. Decide If There’s A Point to It

The subject of our worry generally falls into one of two categories:

  1. Tangible – These are worries that have some basis in reality and are within our control, at least to a certain extent.  A disagreement with a loved one is an example of something you can change.
  2. Arbitrary – These are worries that you can do absolutely nothing about. An apocalyptic asteroid might hit the earth, but it will do so whether you worry about it or not.

Do yourself a favour. If you notice any arbitrary worries, take a good, hard look at them. Are there any aspects of these worries that you can change? Maybe you could built a fallout shelter to survive the asteroid? Or maybe you can spend more time praying, being with loved ones or finding some other solace in knowing the end is nigh?

If there is absolutely not one single thing you can do about this worry, strike it off your high-priority (attention-getting) list. There are certainly enough tangible ones to take their place.

 

 4. Examine Your Evidence

When we are worried, we tend to be rather biased. We analyze everything in terms of what we already believe. In other words, we inadvertently pay attention to anything that confirms our worries but ignore everything else.

Start thinking about the aspects of the situation you have been ignoring. Write this evidence down. Treat your worries like a witness you are cross-examining.

 

5. Find Your Bad

Often, what we’re worrying about is not what we’re really worried about at all. When you are worrying about a specific event, ask yourself this question:

“And what would be so bad about that (the feared result) ?”

When you get your answer, ask yourself again:

“And what would be so bad about that (the next feared result)?”

And so on. Keep going until you can’t come up with anymore answers. Usually, your last “bad” is the bottom line. It is what you are really worried about, at your core. Now, follow the next step.

 

6. De-catastrophize

If you notice that you tend to go from zero to catastrophe in 6.2 seconds, then you MUST make writing your worries out a habit. Write down each step that would occur along the way to “catastrophe”.

For example:

Say something silly in the job interview, then:

look like an idot, then:

won’t get the job, then:

will look completely incompetent, then:

will never get a job, then:

will end up broke, then:

will lose my home, then:

end up on the street!

 

Okay, so the example is a bit extreme but that’s exactly what catastrophizing is – extreme thinking. Most of the time, you don’t even realize how quickly your mind goes from one negative incident to the end of the world. As you dissect the catastrophe – think about each step:

  • On a scale on 1 to 10 – how likely is it this thing will happen?
  • On another scale of 1 to 10 – how likely is it that you would be able to handle it, get out of it, or get help – even if it did happen?

Worry can usually be summarized by this equation:

Worry = Overestimating the threat (real or imagined) and the likelihood of it happening + Underestimating your ability to cope or to get help

Stop over and under estimating.

 

7. Ask your best friend – in your head.

Left alone with our worries, they can seem insurmountable. What do they say – a trouble shared is a trouble halved? While it can be helpful to talk to a good friend about a problem, usually we are just seeking their reassurance. That feeling of reassurance –it doesn’t last long. Worry will worm its way back into your psyche eventually.

Ask yourself what your best friend would say about the situation you are in. Imagine you are talking to them and write down their words of advice and encouragement. Most likely, their views of the situation would be a lot more balanced if not positive, and certainly a lot more supportive than whatever your head is saying to you.

The reason this is more important that actually talking to a friend is this:

By imagining what supportive things they would say, you are actually generating your own supportive self-talk as well. Subconsciously we are more apt to endorse ideas we think are our own. If you need to start changing your own thinking be role-playing someone else’s, so be it.

Warning: If your actual “best friend” wouldn’t give you good advice in real life, don’t do this exercise with them in mind. Think about the characteristics of what a good best friend should be. Then think about what this kind of person would say. Or better yet, think about what you would say to your own best friend or a child who was in a similar situation.

 

8. Take Action

Sometimes worrying can be functional… to a point. A few nerves can be the catalyst we need to get into action. For example, worrying about passing an exam and then studying to make sure we are prepared – that’s functional. Worrying about an exam and burying yourself in video games to avoid the stress – that’s silly. Look for what actions you can take to remedy the situation. Then take them.

Sometimes the whole point of worrying is that it “helps” us avoid taking uncomfortable action. If this is the case, you need to decide what is more uncomfortable – the worry or the action? If the latter your answer, then maybe you need to embrace your worry a little more, because it is clear you are not ready to do anything about it.

 

9. Check Your Beliefs

This one can take some thinking-time, but can be very powerful when it comes to removing needless worry from your life.

Ask yourself, “What do I, in my heart of hearts, believe about of worry?”

Deep down, many of us believe that we need to worry. We think that worry makes us conscientious, good people who care deeply. I believe that the second part of that statement is true for most of us, but not because we worry. We are those things anyway. Worry is not the conduit, it’s a side effect. A very limiting one at that. How much more helpful, caring and conscientious can we be, when we are not castrated by the physical and cognitive damage of stress and relentless worrying?

Another belief many worriers maintain is that worrying about an incident actually prevents it from happening. This kind of magical thinking has many causes, which we will not discuss here, but its important to know that there is no reality-base to it.

10. Set Aside a Worry Period

If you have done all of the above and worry still lingers, this last one is your lifeline to respite.

Set aside a period of one-half to a full hour day. Use that time to do nothing but worry. Set your timer and go for it, full throttle – just make sure to WRITE IT DOWN! If you need to know why, re-read my first point in this post!

When the timer runs out, go do something else.

The reason this one works so magically is straightforward. Your brain worries incessantly because:

a)      It thinks that by worrying, it is doing something about the problem.

b)      It believes that if it stops worrying, it will forget all about the problem and something terrible will happen.

Giving worry its own designated spot in your life satisfies your brain and alleviates its concerns about a and b. When worries crop up at other times in the day, remind yourself that you will worry about it, just not now.

Warning: Worry periods can be done anytime, but are best avoided right before bed!

 

So now you know: worry may feel like an inescapable prison, but there are actually several things you can do to liberate yourself. And only one of these things actually involves taking action – how easy is that!?

You can do any or all of these things, in no particular order, and they will help your manage worry better. Ten or fifteen minutes a day, and life will start to feel lighter in small doses. Do each of these techniques repeatedly, every day, and worry will become a once-in-awhile phenomena, rather than the dominant mindscape in your life.

The only thing you need to do now is start.

Peace & Love

Post script – This post is a short summary of some of the many elements you might experience in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Worry. You absolutely can do all of these things on your own. But if you find you are still struggling, seek professional help. A trained CBT therapist will be skilled in helping you remove the barriers that stop you from going forward.

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8 comments on “10 Simple Strategies to Stop Worrying

    1. Thanks Tom. And holy crap, do I ever LOVE the last post you wrote. Everyone must read it (Hey everyone! Read it!), ADHD or not. Some people can be so quick to judge people by one single action and give them a harsh label because of it. So many high horses and with small people riding them. Tom puts it all into perspective with his usual humour: Read it, read it, read it! http://adhdpeople.net/2014/11/10/adhd-people-dont-just-award-people-title-of-asshole/

  1. Just today a client recognized the subtle distinction between “react” and “react slower”. Just enough of a distinction for him to insert the oh so necessary pause to slow down.

    1. Good point Cam. Most likely the reason so many ADDers also have issues with anxiety/worry is because our super charged attention systems make it difficult for us to s-l-o-w down.

  2. Great post, Andrea. There was a sub-category that I put under “mind reading” when it was actually “fortune telling,” which adds a necessary spin to it I wasn’t considering. As usual, your clear and logical reasoning is bullet-proof. I will forward this link to a few “worrier-friends” who are worry-warriors! I may keep this check-list handy for when my lizard brain won’t allow me to let go the 99% of things I/we worry about that never happen.

    1. Thanks Glen, glad you liked it. You’re comment reminds me of the Mark Twain quote: ‘I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.’ Dang lizard brains!

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