5 Tips to Manage Worrying Thoughts

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Worrying does not take away tomorrow’s troubles. It takes away today’s peace” – Randy Armstrong 

You can destroy your now by worrying about tomorrow” – Janis Joplin.

Worrying thoughts can be helpful – it encourages us to take action. Worrying about an assessment may motivate a student to study to ensure a more positive result. However, worrying thoughts can become dysfunctional when they persist and develop into a self-perpetuating cycle that no longer serves a useful purpose. When such thoughts are ongoing and chronic, this can lead to anxiety and adversely impact one’s mental and physical health. 

Fortunately, worrying is a learned habit that, with practice, can be broken. Just like our brains learn to worry, our brains can also learn to manage worry. Since worrying can and does serve a purpose, the goal is not to avoid worrying altogether, but rather to manage the worries that are chronic and often uncontrollable. Try one (or all!) of the five tips below to manage your worrying thoughts.

  1. Reshift focus: It can be helpful to redirect your mind, focusing instead on your body and its sensations. Try practicing breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or simply getting outdoors and/or doing an activity you enjoy. 
  2. Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness involves nonjudgmental awareness of your thoughts, emotions, and feelings that arise in the moment. Noticing and acknowledging the functional purpose of worrying thoughts can help towards the understanding that such worries tend to be temporary and often do not come into fruition, such as when catastrophising.
  3. Challenge your worries: Contemplate the accuracy of your worrying thoughts. Ask yourself: Is there evidence to support this worry or suggest that it is true? What is a more constructive or reasonable way to view this situation? Can I control the factors associated with the worry and if so, what actions can I take? 
  4. Write it down: Instead of allowing worrying thoughts to clutter your headspace, try writing them down on paper. This can help relieve your mind from carrying worrying thoughts around. Journaling or creating lists can be helpful: analysing your worries in written form can help you develop a more balanced view of them. You can also go back to read some of your previous worries, and contemplate whether in hindsight, this worry was helpful or harmful. 
  5. Worry in small doses: Allocate 30 minutes of “worry time” daily and allow yourself to constructively address your worries (e.g. challenge them; if appropriate, develop an action plan). Minimise worrying outside this allotted time. While initially difficult, with practice this becomes easier: Like our brains learned to worry excessively, we can also teach it to worry constructively. When (not if!) you notice yourself worrying, gently guide yourself back by reshifting focus or practicing mindfulness.