From 15 minutes of meditation to a dedicated “worry time”, we’ve compiled a few quick tips to help you get your worries under control.
If you’re worried about anything right now, don’t fret; you are not alone.
A report by the Office for National Statistics published this summer showed that 66% of people were “very worried” or “somewhat worried” about the effect that the Coronavirus was having on their life – a figure that rose to 75% of disabled people.
Worrying is often a way that we deal with uncertainty in our lives. Often, our worries, concerns and anxieties become focussed on “What if” scenarios – “What if this happens?’ “What if that doesn’t happen?” Very easily, those concerns can escalate to the point that more and more of our time is spent worrying until our thoughts are controlling us, rather than the other way round.
Following World Mental Health Day and to address the rising levels of worry here are four quick steps that will help bring a little more calm to your life.
1. Introduce “Worry Time” Into Your Day
If you find that you are worrying more and more, it’s worth introducing a specific “worry time” into your life. Scheduling a specific time each day in which to worry may sound counterintuitive, but studies have shown that it can significantly decrease anxiety in as little as two weeks, and in the process, actually encourage better sleep.
Set aside 20 to 30 minutes each day, at the same time every day, establishing a pattern that you will rigidly stick to. During that period, you are free to worry about anything that comes into your mind, but on the understanding that when the time is up, those worries are left there. (You can return to them tomorrow if they’re still worrying you.)
If worry or anxious thoughts arise outside of that reflection period, try to tell yourself that you will address it during the next period of “worry time” and not before. Then, take your mind off whatever worry arose by striking up a conversation, turning on the TV, or taking on a task.
The idea here is that, over time, you will train your brain to have more control over the frequency and timing of your worries. Instead of the worry controlling you, you will begin to take control over it.
2. Take Note Of Your Worries
Scheduling “worry time” is just one of the first steps you can take to help reduce stress. The second step involves writing down your worries on a piece of paper.
Worries can often bounce around our headspace, creating noise that makes it hard to concentrate on anything else. This is particularly true at night when, having spent the day accumulating worries of varying shapes and sizes, our brains can be hard to switch off – making sleep a problem.
Some people believe that writing down our worries can reduce anxiety. Studies have shown that by writing down our concerns right before we go to bed, we are slowing the mind down, placing those worries in a box and telling our mind that we will address them tomorrow, but now is for sleep.
The following morning, revisit the worries you wrote down and you may see them in a different light. If they were rooted in a “what if” scenario, many of those worries will likely seem less scary or stressful once time has gone on. Any larger concerns that do remain can be addressed in your scheduled “worry time”.
To take things a step further, author Matthew Johnstone advocates writing down your list, then destroying it. “Once the list is complete,” he says in The Little Book of Resilience – How To Bounce Back From Adversity And Lead A Fulfilling Life, “take a moment to quietly read it through, then take small pleasure with some ceremony in destroying what you’ve written. Screw it up, rip it up, stamp on it or pop it on the BBQ.”
In doing so, he argues, you take great pleasure in knowing that you have addressed your problems and taken another step towards controlling your worries.
For more help with finding ways to build confidence and manage stress and loneliness, read our inspirational content.
3. Understand What You Can (And Can’t) Control
A very effective third step is to understand what you can and cannot control. Worrying stems from a need or desire to be in control. Often, our worries grow if we feel we cannot control a situation, a predicament made far worse when “what if” enters the equation. It becomes a vicious cycle where you worry, try to gain control, fail to gain control, then worry about how you have no control. And this scenario will often play out until you attempt to gain some kind of control over it.
Once you understand what you can and cannot control, you can begin to see your worries in a different light. Almost instantly, you will be able to strike the things you cannot control from the list of things that are causing you worry, concern, or anxiety.
In doing this, you are training your brain to ask, “Is this a problem I can solve?” If it is, set the time aside to solve it. If it isn’t, strike it off your list, save your energy, and move on.
4. Embrace Meditation
The final piece in this four-piece puzzle is to consider meditation, which can be done on a beach at sunrise, but can just as easily be done sitting on the sofa at home.
Suddenly, via an app, we can have a friendly voice on hand to help us see things in a clearer, calmer, less reactive way to help to reduce worry. In fact, studies have shown that people with anxiety show reduced stress levels after a single one-hour mindfulness session, which explains the recent rise in the popularity of these apps.
Meditation quietens noisy minds by training brains to observe thoughts and emotions without getting caught up with them. By observing our thoughts, we are able to control our emotions more effectively, so rather than reacting to them as we’ve always done, often with panic or dismay, we can learn to let them go.
For further information on World Mental Health Day, click here.