7 Tips against worrying that actually work

Many of those who come to us with anxiety and depression spend an incredible amount of time and energy on trying to stop worrying about things that could happen. Despite this it doesn’t get better. The worrying just continues to roll in, and the anxiety doesn’t disappear. Does this mean that it is impossible to stop worrying? Absolutely not. If you know how, it’s can even be quite easy. Here’s how! 

Tips against worrying - this is how you can stop worrying

The following tips are based on research and our experience from helping hundreds of clients with their anxiety and worrying. The tips have been shown to work, and can help you gain control over your worrying by following this guide, and giving it a try over the course of a few weeks.

Step one: 

1. Notice your trigger thoughts

Your trigger thoughts are the thoughts that initiate your worrying. These can be thoughts about your health, job, children, finances, climate change, accidents, the future or even about the anxiety itself. In fact, they could be about anything. A typical trigger thought can be something like: “What if I have cancer?”,  “What if I can’t do my job?” or “What if they don’t like me?” 

Many people spend an enormous amount of effort in trying to rid themselves of their trigger thoughts through thinking them out, reasoning with themselves, turning their thoughts into something more positive or realistic, distracting themselves, or finding solutions for every possible scenario. 

But you can’t rid yourself of worries that way. Because you can’t decide what thoughts pop into your head - only what you do with them once they are there. 

In fact, when you respond to your trigger thoughts, often you simultaneously create additional trigger thoughts, leading to more anxiety. Attention and engagement feeds our thoughts - so the more time and attention you give your negative thoughts and feelings, the more of them you get. 

That’s why you may want to pay less attention to your trigger thoughts. When they strike, you should try to problem solve, distract yourself or tell to yourself to calm down. Just leave your thoughts alone. Ignore it and turn your attention back to what you were doing before the thought came along.

Negative thoughts move on by themselves if you don’t maintain them by engaging with them. But for many this is also the hardest part since we have been telling ourselves to do the complete opposite for so long.

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2. Practice worry postponement

"I can’t turn off my negative thoughts." "I always feel uneasy." "I worry way too much."

Set aside a block of time to deal with your negative thoughts. This is your worry time. For example, you can set aside 15 minutes between 7pm and 7:15pm.

The rest of the day you should work on ignoring your worries when they pop up. Think of your worries as fish hooks that you shouldn’t bite. Or a train you don’t want to go onboard. Just leave them alone. When it’s time for you to worry you can go nuts and worry, brood, plan, or call a friend and talk about what makes you anxious. 

If you don’t want to use your worry time, that’s totally ok. Many don’t really feel like worrying during their worry time. Often your worries don’t feel as important anymore when some time has passed.

3. When your trigger thoughts come back - postpone again

Don’t give up. Trigger thoughts are used to being taken seriously, so in the beginning they will tug at you, and you will notice that you are falling back onto the worry train again and again. It takes time to change your habits, but if you continue to practice, it’ll get easier. 

4. Uneasy and anxious feelings? Don't do anything about them!

Many believe that feelings of unease and anxiety always are important signals from your subconscious that need to be dealt with. This is a common misconception and is simply not true. Especially not if you suffer from an anxiety disorder. When you have anxiety, you’re used to feel uneasy. Simply put, your brain has been rewired to bring up that emotion more easily, and every time it shows up you keep feeding it by focussing on it. That’s often why you’ll feel uneasy when there isn´t any specific reason you should be feeling that way.

But when we are aware of a negative thought or feeling we often have an irresistible urge to do something about it. And the only way we know how to fix it is by trying to actively change it. And this where things go terribly wrong.

So what should you do instead? Do nothing, really!

Simply don’t do anything with your unease. Postpone brooding over why you’re uneasy. Let the unease be. Unease doesn’t mean something is wrong. It doesn’t mean that you have to process the emotion, prepare, or stop what you’re doing. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a reason to worry.

Imagine having a small cut on your finger. You put a bandage on it and trust that your body knows how to fix itself. It's a process you have no control over, and happens autonomously. And you can´t explain exactly how, but you know that if you leave it alone, you'll be fine in a day or so. But what if instead you decided to take off the bandage and tried to actively "help your body" heal by poking around in the wound? You would likely be making things worse. The wound would not heal. In fact it would get worse.

Your mind is not any different. It doesn't need your help.

If you worry every time you feel uneasy or anxious, you’re inadvertently sustaining the feeling by feeding it. In that case your feeling of unease is likely going to last and show up more and more, often without clear reason. Practice leaving your worry and anxiety alone. If you can do that consistently over time, you’ll notice that unease and anxiety are feelings that come and go just like any other feelings.

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5. Distinguish between worrying and preparation

If there’s an obvious reason for your unease and anxiety, of course deal with the problem. But you might not need to worry. Maybe you should prepare instead? For many this means the same thing, but there is a distinction between worrying and preparation. 

If you’re about to have a presentation, what would you rather spend your time doing? Writing notes or worrying? And if you’re going on vacation? Are going to read up on the destination or worry about everything that could go wrong? One is worrying and one is preparation. You can prepare without worrying. 

Ask yourself: is there anything I can do anything about this now? If the answer is yes, the next question is: is there no possibility to do this later? If there is a possibility, then simply postpone it until your worry time - as you just learned about in tip number 2.

You can’t prepare for everything. If you are facing something that you can’t prepare yourself for, it’s often best not to think too much about it, and rather try to live normally as best as you can. If you know that something painful or difficult is going to happen and you can’t do anything about it - why think about it at all? Will it help you in any way, or will it just lead to you feeling worse for longer? Often the best preparation is to not spend too much time stressing yourself up in advance. Then at least you'll be a bit more rested when the challenges arrive.

6. Is worrying helpful?

If you believe that worrying is helpful, you’ll continue worrying. So think through this: does worry have any advantages? Does it actually make you more prepared, motivated, and secure? Are you preforming better at work when you worry a lot? Or, do you become more uncertain, unfocused and insecure? 

Questioning the disadvantages: Is worrying making you less present? More anxious? More stressed? Does it consume a lot of your time? Energy? Think about what disadvantages worrying causes for you. Is it worth it? 

Questioning the alternatives: Is worrying the best way to prepare yourself, stay safe, and perform, or are there other and better ways? See if you can find alternatives, and practice using them. 

7. Worrying isn't dangerous. It's just a bad mental habit

Worrying isn’t dangerous. Worries are thoughts, and thoughts can’t hurt you. Everyone has worries, but not everyone has anxiety. The difference lies in how one deals with the worries. 

You can’t choose which thoughts pop into your head, but you can choose how you want to relate to those thoughts. Here is where the ultimate potential for change lies. 

Think about worrying as a bad habit. Of course it’s difficult to change old habits. But it is possible if you know how, and if you put some consistent effort into it.

And there you have it!

Seven tips you try out straight away! Maybe you noticed that they are based around the idea that negative thoughts are not something you should (or even can) avoid. Nor something to be afraid of. Hopefully these tips will help you further. And if it doesn't work out straight away then that's fine. Keep trying gently (don't force yourself!) over the course of a few weeks, and see if you notice a difference.

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If you liked this article and want to learn more then consider downloading our free PDF '3 steps to less worry and anxiety' where we present our favorite strategies on how to reduce anxiety.

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