Worry: it’s what keeps many people awake at night and annoyingly gnaws away at them as they try to work, enjoy life, and relax.
Unrelenting anxiety and fear can be debilitating and drain you of energy – emotional and physical. For many, this worry has become habit and automatic.
However, like other habits and behaviors, it can be changed. People who worry a lot aren’t able to enjoy themselves. They aren’t able to focus on goals and pleasure. Life for them often feels draining, monotonous, and lacks pleasure. Simply put: they aren’t happy.
This is how to stop worrying and start living.
How To Live Worry-Free
1. Think about worry differently.
What purpose does it serve? Does it make problems go away? Prevent them from happening? Or make them worse? Reminding yourself that worry isn’t practical will help you keep it at bay.
2. Don’t just dismiss your worries.
Many chronic worriers feel they have no control over it. They tell themselves things such as “just don’t worry” or “don’t think about it”…but this thought stopping approach rarely works.
The reason? These phrases are negative commands, and people simply don’t process negativity well. These phrases force you to think about the very thing you’re trying to avoid.
For example, it’s like the command “I don’t want you to think about a zebra with pink and blue stripes.” In order to not think about such a zebra, you need to first imagine what one looks like. So, if I tell you, “don’t worry about X” you need to actually think about X in order not to think about it.
3. Allow yourself time to worry.
That said, I want you to designate time to worry. Allow yourself 15 minutes a day to let it rip. Choose a time when you’re usually most relaxed, but not near bedtime.
Let your thoughts gush. Heck, if you want to, worry more intensely during this period than you normally do. Paradoxically, this exercise will give you control over something you otherwise feel you have no control over. It works for countless patients of mine and it will work for you too.
4. Determine whether you can control the situation or simply prepare for it.
Ask yourself: Do I have control over the issue? So many of the things people worry about are way beyond their control yet it dominates their thinking. For example, the weather. We can’t control it but we can certainly prepare for it.
5. Determine whether your worries are rational.
On a piece of paper, make four columns. On the far left, write the worry you’re having. In the next column, identify whether it is fact or fiction and if there’s any real evidence to support your belief. Then, write an alternative way of thinking. Finally, think about whether the original thought was helpful or not. For example…
Situation: You have tickets for a show on Friday and are worried you may miss it if you get sick.
Column one (the worry): “I’m worried I’ll get sick and have to miss the show on Friday.”
Column two (fact or fiction?): “I’m not sick now, so the thought is unwarranted and fictional.”
Column three (alternative way of thinking): “I’ll make sure I take care of myself and get proper rest so I am healthy for my show on Friday.”
Column four (was the initial worry helpful?): “I didn’t get sick and I did in fact make it to the show. My worries were needless and didn’t affect my health.”
This method can help you deal with your stressors and stop worrying over time.
6. Be a problem solver.
Make a distinction between worrying and problem solving.
Worry is about repeating thoughts that are unhelpful, leads to more stress and worry, and gets in the way of actually enjoying life and being productive.
Problem solving, on the other hand, is focused on getting out of the current pattern of thinking and making life better.
Put on your problem solver hat and think about solutions. How might you advise a friend who has a similar concern? What steps would you take to ensure a solution? Take action now.
Make friends with uncertainty. Feel OK about not knowing exactly how things will turn out. Accept the unpredictability of life. Can you imagine how dull life would be if we knew everything that would happen? Think of all that is right with life and embrace ambiguity. Stop worrying today.
Jonathan Alpert, author of BE FEARLESS: Change Your Life in 28 Days, holds an advanced degree in psychology and is licensed in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. as a Professional Counselor. His direct and no-nonsense approach has helped countless clients overcome a wide range of issues and go on to achieve success in their careers and relationships. Jonathan has appeared on every major national news show and is a special contributor to the Huffington Post.
Photo by Sharmaine Ruth