6 ways to worry less
Top tips to banish those worrywart tendencies
There’s nothing worse than fretting over issues – especially if they make you lose sleep or feel ill. But before you start to worry about worrying, it’s helpful to realise fretting is human, explains consultant psychiatrist Dr Paul Blenkiron. “Worry has a very important purpose: it helps us prepare for problems, it’s there to aid survival and to help us pass on our genes because it makes us ensure our basic needs – to be safe, warm, protected and well-fed – are fulfilled.
“And contrary to popular belief, worry won’t kill you – there is no evidence to suggest that it leads to an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. What can affect your health, however, are the unhealthy strategies you may adopt to deal with anxiety – for example, drinking too much alcohol or taking drugs.” Here’s how to make worry work for you…
1 Distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’
“Good worry is productive,” says Paul. “It has you heading in a straight line towards a solution.” So, let’s say you’ve started suffering from back pain. ‘Good’ worry would have you making an appointment with the doctor, to find out the cause and get a treatment plan. ‘Bad’ worry would have you going around in circles, not reaching a solution and making the situation worse. For example, ‘I have back pain. Why do I have back pain? It might be something serious. It might be a tumour! Or I may get signed off work and lose my job… I can’t go to the doctor. I’m scared to go to the doctor. I’ll just pop another painkiller and hope it goes away…’ “In a nutshell,” says Paul, “you need to look at your worry and ask is it working towards a solution? If yes, then that’s good. If not, it’s ‘bad’ worry – and you need to learn to manage it.”
2 Schedule ‘worry time’
“When you’re feeling overwhelmed with ‘bad’, unproductive worry, techniques can help,” says Paul. “Essentially you give yourself permission to worry – but only at a specific time,” says Paul. “Choose half an hour a day where you will allow yourself to mull over typical issues. But do not allow yourself to worry outside those times. This helps avoid obsessive ruminating throughout the day, which makes the worrier feel helpless and much worse.”
3 Practise mindfulness
“This technique comes from Buddhism,” says Paul. “So rather than fighting and trying to reason with your worry, which can make it worse, you decide instead to resign yourself to it – you go with the flow and embrace your worry. In some people, this has the effect of making the worry go away! It’s a bit like when you ask someone not to think of a pink elephant – the first thing they do, of course, is think of a pink elephant. Likewise, when you tell some people to worry, worry, worry as much as they like, their minds will do the opposite.”
4 Use distraction and relaxation
“Keeping busy works for some people because it keeps their mind focused on the task at hand,” says Paul. “Alternatively, you could try relaxation exercises. These work to help empty your mind of those irritatingly persistent worries. It’s a skill that gets stronger the more you do it and with practice can help you keep your mind calm and empty at times of anxiety.”
5 Write your worry away
“This technique is the opposite of the mindfulness method,” says Paul. “But some people find it very effective in managing their anxiety, so write down your worry. Make two columns and fill one with evidence that supports your worry, then fill the other column with arguments against. Now look at it all in black and white, and ask yourself, ‘Is this a useful, rational worry?’ The answer is usually no! And whenever you find yourself wobbling, you always have your ‘evidence’ to go back to.” If your worry has grounding, then start taking steps to deal with the issue itself.
6 Spot the danger signs
Work out if you have a ‘worry’ pattern by keeping a diary. “Note situations, thoughts and feelings and details of your reactions,” suggests Paul. “You might be able to spot links that show specific worry triggers.” For example, is your worry more pronounced on a specific day? When you haven’t got much to do or, perhaps when you are busier than usual? “Your diary will help you anticipate when worry is likely to strike. And when it does, recognise the signs and act on them.”