“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” Leo Buscaglia
“Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.” Swedish Proverb
It starts with a nagging thought.
That creates another few thoughts.
And before you know it there is a storm brewing in your mind, making you think irrationally and zapping your mental and physical energy.
Your old friend is back, creating chaos within.
I am no stranger to it either and to the powerful negative effects it can have on life and the happiness in it.
But in the last decade I have found several habits that have helped me to greatly decrease my worrying and to more easily handle such thoughts when they pop up.
1. Most of things you worry about have never happened.
I love this quote by Winston Churchill:
“When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.”
I have found it to be very true in my own life.
So when you feel worries starting to pop up ask yourself this:
How many of the things I feared would happen in my life did actually happen?
If you are anything like me then the answer will be: very few. And the very few ones that actually happened were mostly not as painful or terrible as I had expected.
Worries are most often just monsters you build in your own mind.
I find that asking myself this question regularly and reminding myself of how little of the worries that actually came to life makes easier and easier to stay calm and to stop a worried thought before it becomes a big snowball of negativity.
2. Avoid getting lost in vague fears.
When fears feel vague in your mind, when you lack clarity then it is very easy to get lost in exaggerated worries and disaster scenarios.
So find clarity in a worry-inducing situation by asking yourself:
Honestly and realistically, what is the worst that could happen?
When I have answered that question then I follow it up with spending a bit of time on figuring out what I can do about it if that pretty unlikely thing happens.
In my experience, the worst that could realistically happens is usually not as scary as what my mind could make up when it is running wild with vague fears.
Spending a few minutes on finding clarity in this way can save you whole lot of time, energy and suffering.
3. Don’t try to guess what is on someone’s mind.
Trying to read someone’s mind usually doesn’t work too well at all. Instead, it can very easily lead to creating an exaggerated and even disastrous scenario in your mind.
So choose a way that is less likely to lead to worries and misunderstandings.
Communicate and ask what you want to ask.
By doing so you’ll promote openness in your relationship and it will likely be happier as you avoid many unnecessary conflicts and negativity.
4. Say stop in a situation where you know you cannot think straight.
From time to time when I am hungry or when I am lying in bed and are about to go to sleep I can become mentally vulnerable. And so worries can more easily start buzzing around in my head.
In the past this often lead to many minutes of time that where no fun.
These days I have become better at catching such thoughts quickly and to say to myself:
No, no, we are not going to think about this now.
I then follow that up with saying this to myself:
I will think this situation or issue through at a time when I know that my mind will work much better.
Like when I have eaten. Or in the morning when I have gotten my sleep.
It takes some practice to apply this one consistently and effectively but it also makes a big difference in my life.
5. Remember, people don’t think about you and what you do as much as you may think.
They have their hands full with thinking about what other people think of them. And with thinking about what is closest to their hearts like their children, pets, a partner or the job or school.
So don’t get lost in worries about what people may think or say if you do something. Don’t let such thoughts hold you back in life.
6. Work out.
Few things work so well and consistently as working out to release inner tensions and to move out of a headspace that is extra vulnerable to worries.
I also find that working out – especially with free weights – makes me feel more decisive and focused.
So even though working out helps me to build a stronger body my main motivation to keep doing it is for the wonderful and predictable mental benefits.
7. Let your worry out into the light.
This is one of my favorites. Because it tends to work so well.
By letting your “big” worry out into the light and talking about it with someone close to you it becomes a whole lot easier to see the situation or issue for what it really is.
Just venting for a few minutes can make a big difference and after a while you may start to wonder what you were so worried about in the first place.
Sometimes the other person may only have to listen as you work through the situation yourself out loud.
At other times it can be very helpful to let the other person ground you and help you find a more practical and useful perspective on the situation at hand.
If you do not have anyone to talk to at the moment about the worry bouncing around in your mind then let it out by writing about it. Just getting it out of your head and reasoning about with yourself either on paper or in a journal on your computer can help you to calm down and find clarity.
8. Spend more time in the present moment.
When you spend too much time reliving the past in your mind then it easy to start feeding your worries about the future. When you spend too much time in the future then is also easy to get swept away by disaster scenarios.
So focus on spending more of your time and attention in the present moment.
Two of my favorite ways to reconnect with what is happening right now:
Slow down. Do whatever you are doing right now but do it slower. Move, talk, eat or ride your bicycle slower. By doing so you’ll become more aware of what is happening all around you right now.
Disrupt and reconnect. If you feel you are starting to worry then disrupt that thought by shouting this to yourself in your mind: STOP! Then reconnect with the present moment by taking just one or two minutes to focus to 100% on what is going on around you. Take it all in with all your senses. Feel it, see it, smell it, hear it and sense it on your skin.
9. Refocus on the small step you can take to move forward.
To move out the worried headspace I find it really, really helpful to just start moving and taking action to start solving or improving whatever I am concerned about.
So I ask myself:
What is one small step I can take right now to start improving this situation I am in?
Then I focus on just taking that small step forward. After that I find another small step and I take that one too.