Self-Help Strategies for Anxiety Relief!
Worrying can be helpful when it spurs you to take action and solve a problem. But if you’re preoccupied with “what ifs” and worst-case scenarios, worry becomes a problem. Unrelenting doubts and fears can be paralyzing. They can sap your emotional energy, send your anxiety levels soaring, and interfere with your daily life. But chronic worrying is a mental habit that can be broken. You can train your brain to stay calm and look at life from a more positive perspective.
Why is it so hard to stop worrying?
For most chronic worriers, the anxious thoughts are fueled by the beliefs, both negative and positive, they hold about worrying. On the negative side, you may believe that your constant worrying is harmful, that it’s going to drive you crazy or affect your physical health. Or you may worry that you’re going to lose all control over your worrying that it will take over and never stop. On the positive side, you may believe that your worrying helps you avoid bad things, prevents problems, prepares you for the worst, or leads to solutions. Negative beliefs, or worrying about worrying, add to your anxiety and keep worry going. But positive beliefs about worrying can be just as damaging. It’s tough to break the worry habit if you believe that your worrying protects you. In order to stop worry and anxiety for good, you must give up your belief that worrying serves a positive purpose. Once you realize that worrying is the problem, not the solution, you can regain control of your worried mind.
Help tip #1: “Create a worry period”
You can test this out for yourself. Close your eyes and picture a pink elephant. Once you can see the pink elephant in your mind, stop thinking about it. Whatever you do, for the next five minutes, don’t think about pink elephants!
How did you do? Did thoughts of pink elephants keep popping in your brain?
“Thought stopping” backfires because it forces you to pay extra attention to the very thought you want to avoid. You always have to be watching for it, and this very emphasis makes it seem even more important.
Help tip #2: “Ask yourself if the problem is solvable”
Productive, solvable worries are those you can take action on right away. For example, if you’re worried about your bills, you could call your creditors to see about flexible payment options. Unproductive, unsolvable worries are those for which there is no corresponding action. “What if you get cancer someday?” or “What if your kid gets into an accident?” If the worry is solvable, start brainstorming. Make a list of all the possible solutions you can think of. Try not to get too hung up on finding the perfect solution. Focus on the things you have the power to change, rather than the circumstances or realities beyond your control. After you’ve evaluated your options, make a plan of action. Once you have a plan and start doing something about the problem, you’ll feel much less worried.
Help tip #3: “Accept uncertainty”
Thinking about all the things that could go wrong doesn’t make life any more predictable. You may feel safer when you’re worrying, but it’s just an illusion. Focusing on worst-case scenarios won’t keep bad things from happening. It will only keep you from enjoying the good things you have in the present. So if you want to stop worrying, start by tackling your need for certainty and immediate answers.
Help tip #4: “Challenge anxious thoughts”
Start by identifying the frightening thought, being as detailed as possible about what scares or worries you. Then, instead of viewing your thoughts as facts, treat them as hypotheses you’re testing out. As you examine and challenge your worries and fears, you’ll develop a more balanced perspective.
Help tip # 5: “Be aware of how others affect you”
How you feel is affected by the company you keep, whether you’re aware of it or not. Studies show that emotions are contagious. We quickly “catch” moods from other people—even from strangers who never speak a word (e.g. the terrified woman sitting by you on the plane; the fuming man in the checkout line). The people you spend a lot of time with have an even greater impact on your mental state.
- Keep a worry diary. You may not be aware of how people or situations are affecting you. Maybe this is the way it’s always been in your family, or you’ve been dealing with the stress so long that it feels normal. You may want to keep a worry diary for a week or so. Every time you start to worry, jot down the thought and what triggered it. Over time, you’ll start to see patterns.
- Spend less time with people who make you anxious. Is there someone in your life who drags you down or always seems to leave you feeling stressed? Think about cutting back on the time you spend with that person or establish healthier relationship boundaries. For example, you might set certain topics off-limits, if you know that talking about them with that person makes you anxious.
- Choose your confidantes carefully. Know who to talk to about situations that make you anxious. Some people will help you gain perspective, while others will feed into your worries, doubts, and fears.
Help tip #6: “Practice mindfulness”
Using mindfulness meditation to stay focused on the present is a simple concept, but it takes practice to reap the benefits. At first, you’ll probably find that your mind keeps wandering back to your worries. Try not to get frustrated. Each time you draw your focus back to the present, you’re reinforcing a new mental habit that will help you break free of the negative worry cycle.
“Focus on the things you have the power to change, rather than the circumstances or realities beyond your control. After you’ve evaluated your options, make a plan of action…”