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10 Tips to Manage Your Worrying

Almost 1 in 10 people find uncontrollable worrying a distressing affliction.

Do you find that you’re continually fighting with your worries? Do they distress you because you feel controlled by them or that if you don’t worry then something bad might happen? Do your worries pour into your head when you wake up at night? Finally, when you’ve started worrying, do you find it almost impossible to stop?

You are not alone! Almost 1 in 10 people find uncontrollable worrying a distressing affliction that feels as though it has become an inseparable part of their personalities and character. Chronic worrying is often driven by a need to worry to “make sure things will all be OK.” It will affect your mood; it can also have detrimental effects on your relationships, work productivity, and social life.

I’ll talk in later blog posts about some of the causes of chronic worrying. In the meantime, here are 10 tips with useful links that you can try out to help you manage your worrying.

1. Problem-solve, don’t worry: Worrying is normally a very inefficient attempt to problem-solve. So when you worry, try to turn this into useful problem solving by considering what you need to do now to deal with the problem. You might want to have a look at this website which provides a useful guide to developing your practical problem-solving skills.

2. Don’t waste time on “What if..?” questions: Don’t waste time thinking up situations that "might" happen, but in reality are quite unlikely to happen – that is just a misuse of good brain time. Try to spot when you start asking yourself “What if…?” type questions. The vast majority of the scenarios you create using this approach are never likely to happen – so why waste time thinking about them? Have a look at how to handle “What if…?” worrying here.

3. Don’t kid yourself that worry is always helpful: Don’t be fooled into thinking that your worry will always be helpful. If you are a persistent worrier you’ve probably come to use worrying simply to kid yourself that you’re doing something about a problem. This is not an alternative to tackling the problem in practical ways. This journal article will give you some insight into how chronic worriers come to believe that all worrying is useful – when it’s not.

4. Learn to accept uncertainty: Uncertainty is a fact of life, so try to accept that you will always have to live with and tolerate some uncertainty. Unexpected things happen, and accepting this in the longer term will make your life easier and reduce your anxieties. Here’s some useful advice about how to begin accepting and dealing with uncertainty.

5. Always try to lift your mood: Negative moods fuel worrying. Negative moods include anxiety, sadness, anger, guilt, shame, and even physical states such as tiredness and pain. If you must worry, try not to do so when in negative moods because your worrying will be more difficult to control and more difficult to stop. If you find yourself worrying in a negative mood, immediately try to do something to lift your mood. Some examples of how to do this are provided here and here.

6. Don’t try to suppress unwanted worries: When you do start to worry – don’t try and fight or control those thoughts. It is helpful to notice them rather than try to suppress them, because actively trying to suppress thoughts simply makes them bounce back even more! So acknowledge those worrisome thoughts but then move on to doing something more useful.

7. Manage the times when you worry: Become a “smart” worrier. If you find that worrying can be useful but that it just gets out of control, then try to manage your worry by setting aside specific times of day to engage in worrying (e.g. an hour when you’ve finished work). But also take the time to soothe yourself when this period is over, just to get yourself back into balance. This book may be able to help you find ways to soothe yourself after worrying.

8. Change “What if…?” worries to “How can I…?” worries: To be able to manage your worries, you need to understand exactly what they are. Try keeping a worry diary for a week or so. Write down each worry when it occurs – just a sentence to describe it will do. Then later, try and see how many of your worries are “What if…?” type questions. As we mentioned earlier, “What if..?” worries are not helpful. You can try to turn these worries into “How can I…? worries, which is more likely to lead you on to practical solutions (e.g. you could turn a “What if I forget what to say in my interview?” worry into “How can I prepare myself to remember what I need to say in my interview”). You can also go back to tip #2 and use some of the strategies there for handling “What if…?” worries.

9. How not to lose sleep by worrying: Very often your worries may stop you sleeping. You may find yourself running through every possible problem that could arise and trying to think up solutions. All this will do is keep you awake longer, and you’ll end up feeling tired (and probably anxious) the next day. One solution to worries that keep you awake at night is to keep a pen and paper next to the bed. When you wake up worrying, simply write a list of things you need to do tomorrow (including dealing with the worry). You’ll probably find that once the worry has been transferred to that piece of paper, there is now no longer any need to keep it in your head as well. It can be dealt with tomorrow.

10. Stay in the moment: Spending most of your time worrying about things that might happen in the future means that you’ll spend less time enjoying the present and staying in the moment. Acknowledge the worries that enter your head, but don’t engage them. Try to refocus on what you are doing in that moment – watching a TV program, reading a good book, playing with your children. Try some of these tips for disengaging with your worries and staying in the moment.

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More from Graham C.L. Davey Ph.D.
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