“Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but gets you nowhere.” ~ Glenn Turner
When you worry, your thoughts go in circles and you focus only on what if’s. One worry leads to another worry which leads to another worry. With your mind racing ahead of you, you can’t fall asleep and you wish you had a pill to stop the spinning.
Your mind is not only spinning in circles, you also assume the worst will happen. And you may even doubt yourself, telling yourself that you can’t handle what hasn’t even happened yet. With all this worry going on, it can be hard to be fully present and enjoy in the moment.
The more you hang out with your worry, the more you believe it to be true. When you believe your worry is true, you’ll react as if you or someone you care about is being threatened. Humans are the only creatures who can turn their stress response (fight or flight) on by imagining threatening situations in their mind.
People have many ways of managing anxiety from exercising, meditating, journaling to medication. One of the ways people try to manage their anxiety is to change their thinking away from focusing on the what if’s to the way it is. We can almost always handle what is more than what if!
4 Steps to Manage Worry & Anxiety:
If you are looking for new ways to manage your anxiety better, then explore the steps to learning how to manage your worry more effectively by changing your thinking.
Step 1. Bring Worry Into Awareness: Since most reactions are outside of our awareness, first slow down and reflect on how you got yourself so worked up. When you notice your heart racing, head aching, or stomach flopping, reflect on what you are anxious about. What are you interpreting as a threat to you or someone you care about? Bringing this into your awareness is the first step to accessing those calmer thoughts.
Step 2. Sort Worry from Reality: People can worry about almost anything and be convinced that their worry is true. It’s important to know the difference between your worry (anxiety = what if) and reality (fact = what is), so you can eventually choose which one you want to think and act on.
For example, your tween daughter comes home concerned about an argument she had with her friends on the playground. You worry that her friends won’t treat her well and that your daughter can’t handle the problem without your help. The reality is friendships change and you can’t do much about what goes on during a recess within your tween’s social circle. Before you start to give your daughter advice or email her teacher, she tells you how she plans on handling the situation the next day.
Step 3. Make a Choice: In this example, you have identified your worry as the following what if: unsure your tween can handle her own problems and wanting to protect her. You also identified the reality as the following what is: your tween has her own way of handling her friend problems and doesn’t need an adult to step in. You could very easily hold onto both of these ways of thinking about the problem, and stay worried about something you can’t control.
Or you can choose which way you want to think about the problem, so you don’t have to absorb emotional responsibility for something you can’t change in the future. If you choose to only think about the reality of the situation, you will be freeing yourself from holding onto the worry. When you choose to focus on the facts more than your worry, you set yourself free from that worry.
Step 4. Confirm Actions Match Choice: This step can naturally happen once you choose to focus on reality more than your worry. But other times, you will need to identify how your actions match the choice of thinking you just made.
For example, if you are choosing to focus on how you think your tween can learn to manage her own social problems, but start giving her advice. Then you just fell back into worry and unsureness. It’s easy to pick a worry back up when your actions don’t match your calm thinking. Instead, identify how your actions can match your thinking about the problem.
Most people skip steps and try to act less worried. But it is our thoughts and choices that determine how we act and interact. It isn’t until you make a choice on how you think about the problem, that you are able to let go of the worry.
Which step do you have more trouble with when you try to manage your worry?
Are you tired of your anxiety getting in the way of enjoying your life? If you’ve tried different strategies to manage your worry or what used to work isn’t working anymore, schedule free 15-minute phone consult to decide if working with a counselor is the next best step to getting your life back. Marci Payne, MA, LPC offers anxiety counseling services for adults and teens in Independence MO (also serving surrounding cities of Blue Springs and Lee’s Summit).
Photo Credit: Merry-Go-Round by Ronald Meriales