Are you stuck in your head? Do you feel like you are worrying about anything and everything all day long? Repeating the same scenarios in your head over and over and spiraling down the hole of anxious thoughts is tiring!
Sometimes, worry can be a good thing. When there is a realistic possibility of failure or unpleasant thing occurring, worry can motivate us to work harder, prepare and focus on what we can control. However, when it slips into rumination about the things you have no control over, it doesn’t lead to productive or practical solutions. Instead, it triggers unhelpful thought patterns and excessive worry that repeat over and over. It’s completely useless and simply frustrating. But how to stop?
Why Simply Telling Yourself to Stop Worrying is Not Helpful
Your excessive worry isn’t there without a reason. You bother yourself with worst case scenarios and anxious thoughts because they give you a false sense of control. If you worry too hard, bad things might not happen, right? And if they happen, you’d surely be prepared?
Still, you don’t feel any better if the thing you were worried about really occurs, do you? Think about it.
Remember, worrying gives you a FALSE sense of control. We have a tendency to believe that rumination will bring a sense of relief, but it doesn’t because that tailspin has no end or solution, which just intensifies anxiety more.
Simply telling yourself to stop doing something is not enough because, as mentioned above, somewhere deep down you might believe that worry gives you some sense of control and relief. That’s why your subconscious mind doesn’t let go. However, this sense of control is extremely weak, and the damage to your mental health far outweighs that illusion of the “benefit”.
So the first thing you need to do is to consciously decide to give up on trying to control things you can’t control. Second, stop blaming yourself for feeling anxious. It’s enough you feel overwhelmed in the first place; you don’t need additional pressure. Simply telling yourself to stop worrying doesn’t work. So, what does?
Schedule Worry Time
It may sound counterproductive, but forcing yourself to worry during a specific time of the day may actually help you worry less. Studies consistently show that dedicating 15 to 20 minutes during the day to purposely obsess over things that worry you actually decreases the number of worrying thoughts during the day and helps to ease anxiety.
Rules are simple: schedule 15 minutes at a specific time every day to worry about your problems. Pick a time when you know you’ll be able to focus all your attention to worry without interruptions. However, try to make this time at least 2 hours away from your bedtime to avoid possible difficulties falling asleep.
Okay, now that you made your appointment with worry, spend some time with it. Dedicate your full attention to your anxious thoughts during those 15 minutes, without fighting them or trying to make them go away. Don’t try to think positive or to convince yourself these thoughts are unnecessary. Exactly the opposite – strive to come up with as many worries as you can, and try to be as uncomfortable as possible in reviewing them. If you run out of ideas in those 15 minutes, it’s important to not walk away. The goal is to fill the whole 15 minutes with worry, not a minute more or less. If you spent all your anxious ideas in the first 10 minutes, repeat the ones you already thought over.
When your scheduled date with worry passes, get up and go on with your day. You’ll meet your worry at the same time the next day, but not until then. Anxious thoughts will, of course, try to sneak in and occupy space in your head during the day. Just politely tell them that now is not the time, and they will have to wait until the appointment when you’ll listen to all of them. If they are persistent, instead of getting stuck in your head with them, try some of the mindfulness techniques like focusing on the outside sensations or on your breathing.
There is a little mind twist here. You’re probably frustrated with not being able to run away or combat all those worrying and uncomfortable thoughts; it just seems there are too many of them all the time. However, when you turn tables around and purposefully try to find as many of them as possible, you realize three things:
- There are not so many of them after all,
- Facing your worries and letting unpleasant feelings those obsessing thoughts evoke is not so terrible or unboreable,
- In the end, worrying becomes boring.
These three things change the way you approach your worry and gradually ease your anxiety over anxiety. Instead of becoming all tense on the first thought of worry, you become to experience other emotional responses, like boredom for example. That creates space for making a distance from unhelpful thought patterns and for taking a more realistic perspective.
In the end, one important note: be persistent. Give time for change. When you start practicing this technique, it’s possible that your worry will intensify in the first few days, and it will be more difficult to resist rumination between worry times. That is frustrating, but also totally natural. Just keep up the practice. Emotional changes need time. However, if this technique stirs up extremely strong emotions in you after a week, stop practicing it. Additionally, don’t hesitate to ask for additional support. Your therapist will work with you to discover what lies behind your anxious thoughts and feelings, and find techniques and tools that suit you best.