Worries, doubts, and anxieties are a normal part of life. It’s natural to worry about unpaid bills, an upcoming job interview, or a first date. But ‘normal’ worry can soon become persistent and uncontrollable if left unchecked.
Constant worrying, negative thinking, and always expecting the worst can take a toll on your emotional and physical health. It can leave you feeling restless and jumpy; cause insomnia, headaches, stomach problems, and muscle tension; and make it difficult to concentrate at work or school. You may take your negative feelings out on the people closest to you, self-medicate with alcohol or drugs, or try to distract yourself by zoning out in front of tv and computer screens.
If you suffer from chronic anxiety and worry, then the chances are you look at the world in ways that make it seem more threatening than it really is. Here are examples of cognitive distortions that add to anxiety, worry, and stress:
- All-or-nothing thinking
- Focusing on the negatives while filtering out the positives.
- Coming up with reasons why positive events don’t count.
- Making negative interpretations without hard evidence.
- Expecting the worst-case scenario to happen.
- Believing that the way you feel reflects reality.
- Holding yourself to a strict list of what you should and shouldn’t do and beating yourself up if you break the rules.
- Labelling yourself based on mistakes and perceived shortcomings.
- Assuming responsibility for things that are outside your control.
While cognitive distortions aren’t based on reality, they’re difficult to give up. They often occur as part of a lifelong pattern of thinking that becomes so automatic that you lose awareness of it. You may even begin to think that worrying will eventually help you find solutions to problems or prevent you from being surprised by future events.
In order to stop worry and anxiety for good, though, you need to give up the belief that your worrying serves a positive purpose. Once you realise that worrying is the problem and not the solution, you can turn off your anxious thoughts and regain control of your worried mind.
If you worry excessively, it can seem like negative thoughts are endlessly running through your head. You may feel like you’re spiralling out of control, going crazy, or about to burn out under the weight of all that anxiety. However, there are steps which you can take right now which will hit the pause button on anxious thoughts and give you a much needed time out from all the stresses of constant worrying.
- Get up and get moving
Exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment because it releases endorphins which relieve tension and stress, boost energy, and enhance your sense of well-being. Even more importantly, by really focusing on how your body feels as you move, you can interrupt the constant flow of worries running through your head.
- Talk about your worries
It may seem like a simple solution, but talking face to face with people who will listen to you without judging, criticising, or continually being distracted, is one of the most effective ways to calm your nervous system and diffuse anxiety.
- Practice mindfulness
Worrying is usually focused on the future; what might happen and what you will do about it, or on the past; rehashing the things you’ve said or done. The centuries-old practice of mindfulness can help you break free of your worries by bringing your attention back to the present. This strategy is based on observing your worries and then letting them go; helping you identify where your thinking is causing problems and then getting in touch with your emotions.
- Learn to postpone worrying
Rather than trying to stop or get rid of anxious thoughts, wait until you have the luxury of time to think about them and then give yourself permission to do so. You can even set aside a time and place for worrying. It should be the same every day (e.g. in the living room from 5:00 – 5:20 p.m.) and early enough that it won’t make you anxious right before bedtime. During your worry period, you’re allowed to worry about whatever’s on your mind. The rest of the day, however, is a worry-free zone.
- Distinguish between solvable and unsolvable worries
Productive, solvable worries are those you can take action on right away. If the worry is not solvable, accept the uncertainty.
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