Worrying. We all do it from time to time and sometimes it can be really annoying. Wouldn’t you love to finally put a stop to those brooding thoughts and concerns?
Well, there genuinely are things you can try if you want to stop worrying. OpenUp psychologist, Sarah Takens, is here to give you 5 tips to tackle your chronic worrying.
What Is Chronic Worrying?
Let’s start by really examining the term chronic worrying. What exactly does it mean and what happens when we worry to a chronic degree? Chronic worrying isn’t the same as “just thinking a lot”. OpenUp psychologist, Sarah, explains this in more detail: “Unlike thinking, where you’re actually trying to come up with a concrete course of action or a solution, chronic worrying is when you have the same thoughts stuck in your brain on repeat.”
You might worry about the past; about things you wish you’d done differently or hadn’t seen. It’s also possible to worry about the future, when you start imagining different scenarios because you don’t know how a particular situation is going to unfold. Sarah: “Chronic worrying means you’re perpetually stuck in a cycle of repetitive thoughts, completely frozen and unable to act.”
Is Worrying Normal?
Worrying is totally normal human behavior. We all experience it at some point or another because it’s a natural part of life. It becomes a problem when you start to worry too much and get caught up in a perpetually stressful spiral of thoughts.
It would be great if you could simply snap your fingers and immediately stop all that overthinking, but sadly it’s not that simple. Sarah illustrates this point using the ‘pink elephant’ example: “The harder you try NOT to think about a pink elephant, the more your thoughts will keep returning to one.”
What are the Symptoms of Chronic Worrying?
Chronic worrying is associated with various mental health disorders, as well as physical ailments. You may notice that you’re struggling to focus and concentrate, that you’re forgetful, indecisive, having trouble sleeping, and experiencing feelings of stress. Sarah: “Chronic worrying causes stress and more stress leads to more worrying. Chronic worrying and stress are two sides of the same coin.”
It’s important to listen to your body, but how do you do that? “The most obvious sign of chronic worrying is that it’s all-consuming,” explains Sarah. “You’ll feel like your total brain capacity is completely taken up with your worries and there’s no space for anything else. Often this will be accompanied with feelings of gloom, but you stay wrapped up in your thoughts, achieving very little.”
How Can You Tackle Your Chronic Worrying?
If you notice that you’re worrying so much that you don’t have the space or energy to do other things with your life, then it’s time to act. And there definitely are things you can do. The question is: how do you break the cycle of chronic worrying?
Step one is to become aware of what chronic worrying looks like for you. Do you notice that when your thoughts become repetitive, you tend to wallow in them and struggle to come up with a solution or a course of action? If you know that you’re worrying, you stand a good chance of breaking the cycle.
However, you can’t do this by resisting or trying to fight your thoughts – think back to that pink elephant example. When you’re struggling to sleep at night, you need to remember that whether you stay up all night worrying or actually get some sleep, the outcome will probably be the same. Also, be gentle with yourself, otherwise you’ll just end up worrying about the fact you’re worrying. You need to let go and relax: that’s is the quickest way to break free from worries.
5 Tips to Tackle Chronic Worrying
So, what can you do if you start to notice you’re stuck in a cycle of chronic worrying? We asked Sarah for a few useful tips:
Find a distraction This might sound obvious, but shifting your attention helps enormously. Listen to music, workout, read, watch TV, go for a walk, hang out with friends… The ‘thought stopping technique’ also works really well here: whenever a worry arises, repeat a certain neutral word to yourself. By distracting your brain and shifting your focus, you’re actually overriding those worries and giving yourself the chance to break the cycle.
Save your thoughts for later It’s virtually impossible to suppress your thoughts and trying to do so is almost always counterproductive. What can help, however, is delaying your thoughts until a later moment. Choose a point in your day and make it your designated ‘worrying time’. You don’t need to ignore anything that comes up during the rest of the day, but save it for that window of time. Ultimately, you’ll probably find that you’ve already forgotten a lot of these thoughts when the moment arrives, or that they’re not as important as they first seemed.
Write your thoughts down Writing down the things you’re worrying about can help you to organize your thoughts. By getting your repetitive thoughts down on paper, you’ll make some space in your brain and this will help you to let go of some of the things that are bothering you. For example, keep a journal nearby and write down what you’re worrying about every day. For each thought, note if there’s anything you can do about it and if you want to do that thing. Is the answer yes? Then carry out that action and that’s one less thing to think about. Good riddance.
Meditation and mindfulness By concentrating on the here and now, you can gain more control over your thoughts. Many people are aware of the benefits of meditation and mindfulness exercises: you’re training yourself not to get lost in thoughts about the past or future, but to stay rooted in the present. Focusing on your breathing is also a great way to shift your attention. When you’re concentrating on your breathing, there’s less space for worries. It also has the added benefit of helping your body to relax.
Question your thoughts You can try to distract yourself or save your worries for a later moment, but it might also be helpful to face these thoughts head on and examine them. Ask yourself: what exactly am I thinking about? What’s the worst that could happen? And, if that did happen, how bad would that really be? When you drag your concerns out into the light and really examine them, you get a better handle over them. It also helps you to put your thoughts into perspective.
In short: worrying is perfectly natural and something you can’t really avoid given the kind of lives we lead. And yes, that can sometimes be difficult. With these tips you’ll be better equipped to handle any future spirals of chronic worrying.
Do you still have questions about chronic worrying? Feel free to reach out to one of our psychologists.