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How to stop worrying: 11 steps to reduce stress and anxiety

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How to stop worrying

Meditation for worrying about the future

Listen to Fear of Future: Pt 1 – 12 minutes

For instance, the worry could be that someone we’re meeting won’t like us; or that an upcoming flight will lead to an emergency landing; or that the nagging pain we’ve noticed might well be a serious health condition. Most of the time, our worries don’t pan out. That’s because worry is often invented by the mind, and is rarely rooted in fact or truth. Eventually, we come to realize that worrying about the future doesn’t prevent tomorrow’s troubles, it just robs today of its joy. As an old quote goes: “Worry is the interest you pay on a debt you may not owe.”

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Occasional anxiety over the future is a normal part of life. In fact, our brains are evolutionarily wired to worry: our cave-dwelling ancestors, who imagined the worst when they heard leaves rustle, had better odds of surviving a predator by being in this state of constant alert. So worrying, to some extent, is a natural part of life — we worry about paying a bill, or how a first date might turn out, or if the weather might ruin a planned BBQ.

But it’s when the “what ifs” are persistent and run rampant — attaching themselves to every possible outcome — that worry becomes a chronic source of anxiety, and can lead to insomnia, headaches, stomach problems, and more. At its most extreme, worry can be paralyzing, interfering with how we show up in everyday life, and preventing us from taking action, even if it’s simply to cook dinner for friends (because … maybe it won’t taste good, etc.). Chronic worrying can also indicate Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), so it’s always worth seeking a healthcare professional’s advice if worrying has become a preoccupying mindset.

Harvard researcher and lecturer Shawn Achor writes in his book The Happiness Advantage, “Adversities, no matter what they are, simply don’t hit us as hard as we think they will. Our fear of consequences is always worse than the consequences themselves.”

So, how to stop worrying?

If you notice you’re caught up in a worrying storyline, know that you have the power to break the cycle. When it comes to short-circuiting the anxiety loop that worry puts us in, meditation can be a great ally. With practice, we learn to step away from the thoughts and emotions that entertain worst-case scenarios; instead, we develop an awareness that allows us to not only see what our mind is inventing, but to also be less triggered by worry. We are essentially training the mind to be calmer, more at ease, and less reactive.

One such tactic is to acknowledge the presence of such thoughts in the mind, as uncomfortable as that may be. A trick to accomplish this is to think of your worry as a movie playing in your mind. As a viewer, you are there to sit and watch the film — not change the film in any way, even though you might naturally want to rewrite the script or silence the film altogether. Hitting “mute” might seem appealing, but it doesn’t allow us to see the worry for what it really is: another thought among many, many thoughts.

By simply watching the mind, we can start to feel more at ease with our feelings and begin to ease the emotions and physical sensations that may arise when we worry. In time, we discover that we are unfazed by things that would usually set off a bombardment of negative thinking. Meditation is a tool that, if used consistently, will help us rewire our thinking, aiding us to break the worry cycle.

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One of the most insidious parts about worrying is the effect it has on our physical, mental, and emotional health . In fact, over a third of Americans visited a doctor over a stress-related illness in 2018 , and many illnesses may be perpetuated by stress. If this sounds like you, it’s time to learn how to stop worrying.

1. Excessive worry can make you physically ill

These symptoms can also serve as a sign to examine how you’re feeling. You may need to practice deep breathing and focus on relieving your worry. Ultimately, one of the first steps towards learning how to stop worrying is to identify these physical symptoms.

2. Worry can cause a stress response

Over time, repetitive negative thoughts can trigger other stress responses in your body. While it may seem like your mind is going a mile a minute, tracking your thoughts and the physical sensations in your body can help slow stress.

3. Worrying too much can affect your daily life

When anxious thoughts become part of your everyday life, your stress can show up at work, with your family, in your finances , and even in your hobbies. In addition, feelings of stress are becoming more and more common in adults over the past few years. Learning how to stop worrying is more crucial than ever to maintain good mental health.

Over time, too much worry can impact your emotional resilience and make completing necessary tasks harder. Learning how to stop worrying can bring relief and happiness to your life. This can quickly reverse the effects of excessive stress and anxiety.

How can you stop worrying?

1. Stop worrying by practicing mindfulness and meditation

When you feel your concentration waning, sitting in a quiet room and clearing your mind can do wonders for your well-being. Mindfulness and meditation can take your focus away from negative thoughts, stop you from feeling anxious, and inspire a state of calm .

A guided meditation app can help clear your mind, refocus your thoughts, or distract from your worries. Over time, meditation can also help you get into a flow state, which allows you to focus on your priorities and knock tasks off your to-do list with ease. Learning to focus on what’s in front of you, instead of your worries, can truly change your life.

2. Stop worrying by practicing deep breathing

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3. Stop worrying by doing a body scan

When you’re worrying, it’s natural to tighten your muscles. Over time, raised shoulders or a tight jaw can cause chronic muscle tension. The more you worry, the more tension you continuously carry in your body. If you feel constant tension, stiffness, or pain in your back and shoulders, it’s time to focus on how to stop worrying.

In these moments, as you notice yourself feeling worried, take a deep breath and notice where you feel tension. Scanning your body can help you reconnect to the present, feel more grounded, and ultimately worry less.

Start at your toes and give dedicated attention to each part of your body up to your head. When you feel tension, focus on breathing into that discomfort and physically relaxing. Slowly release the tightness in your body, and before you know it, you’ll have discovered one great method for how to stop worrying instantly.

4. Stop worrying by sharing your fears with supportive friends and family

It’s easy to get lost in your thoughts as a chronic worrier, forgetting about family and friends without realizing it. Connecting with others is a powerful method to transform your emotional well-being, even when you feel like isolating.

5. Stop worrying by focusing on what you’re grateful for

As we focus on one negative thought, it primes our brain to look for more. By contrast, looking for a silver lining can help train your brain to search for positives and interrupt the cycle of worry. This is one reason why a daily gratitude practice can be so helpful and even life-changing.

Having trouble finding something to be grateful for? Take a step back and look for what is interesting about the situation or funny. Engage your mind through curiosity and humor. This can quickly shift you into a better place and provide a needed break from the negative thoughts. You can even try to be curious about the way you worry.

6. Stop worrying by keeping a daily emotions journal

Chronic stress and anxiety happen when we don’t notice the first signs of worry and let it grow over time. Want to learn how to stop worrying? Checking in with yourself regularly is an important way to maintain your mental health and manage your anxiety.

As you practice journaling your emotions and sharing your thoughts, it becomes easier to identify when you’re starting to worry. Stopping worry early will ultimately help you feel better and stay focused on what matters most to you.

7. Stop worrying by maintaining a regular sleep schedule

Insomnia is a common side effect of chronic worry. When your mind is running wild, it can be tough to relax and get enough sleep. While you may feel like staying up will help you “solve” your worries, you’re often better off with a restorative night’s sleep.

8. Distinguish between what you can control and what you can’t

If you’re preparing for an interview , you may be able to stop worrying and control the situation by researching the company or the interviewer. But, if you’re waiting for the results of an interview, worrying about the results won’t solve the problem because it’s out of your control .

If you’re struggling as a chronic worrier, ask yourself, “What can I control?” This can help you be more proactive when there is something you can do. Plus, this mindset can help release your worry when you discover there’s nothing you need to do about the situation.

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9. Stop worrying, with regular exercise

Listening to music also is a great relaxation technique and a powerful way to stop worry in its tracks. Hitting the gym with your headphones in can get your blood pumping and help you stop worrying instantly.

Tip 6: Practice mindfulness

Worrying is usually focused on the future—on what might happen and what you’ll do about it—or on the past, rehashing the things you’ve said or done. The centuries-old practice of mindfulness can help you break free of your worries by bringing your attention back to the present. This strategy is based on observing your worries and then letting them go, helping you identify where your thinking is causing problems and getting in touch with your emotions.

Acknowledge and observe your worries. Don’t try to ignore, fight, or control them like you usually would. Instead, simply observe them as if from an outsider’s perspective, without reacting or judging.

Let your worries go. Notice that when you don’t try to control the anxious thoughts that pop up, they soon pass, like clouds moving across the sky. It’s only when you engage your worries that you get stuck.

Stay focused on the present. Pay attention to the way your body feels, the rhythm of your breathing, your ever-changing emotions, and the thoughts that drift across your mind. If you find yourself getting stuck on a particular thought, bring your attention back to the present moment.

Repeat daily. Using mindfulness to stay focused on the present is a simple concept, but it takes time and regular 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.

Basic mindfulness meditation

Stubbs, B., Vancampfort, D., Rosenbaum, S., Firth, J., Cosco, T., Veronese, N., Salum, G. A., & Schuch, F. B. (2017). An examination of the anxiolytic effects of exercise for people with anxiety and stress-related disorders: A meta-analysis. Psychiatry Research, 249, 102–108. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2016.12.020

Newman, M. G., Llera, S. J., Erickson, T. M., Przeworski, A., & Castonguay, L. G. (2013). Worry and Generalized Anxiety Disorder: A Review and Theoretical Synthesis of Evidence on Nature, Etiology, Mechanisms, and Treatment. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 9, 275–297. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-050212-185544

Kircanski, K., Thompson, R. J., Sorenson, J., Sherdell, L., & Gotlib, I. H. (2015). Rumination and Worry in Daily Life: Examining the Naturalistic Validity of Theoretical Constructs. Clinical Psychological Science : A Journal of the Association for Psychological Science, 3(6), 926–939. https://doi.org/10.1177/2167702614566603

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Sources:

https://www.headspace.com/articles/how-to-stop-worrying
https://www.betterup.com/blog/worry
https://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/how-to-stop-worrying.htm

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