Worries are completely normal. It’s actually beneficial to worry about things sometimes. It helps us identify potential problems. But worry can become problematic when it’s persistent.
Excessive worrying can hurt your well-being and lead to a state of chronic anxiety or stress. It can also stress your relationships, harm your self-confidence, and hurt your career. And stopping worrying is not always easy, either.
Worry involves negative thought patterns — patterns that we’ve used over and over again. This can make them deeply ingrained in our brains. So stopping worrying involves confronting our beliefs, values, and emotions. Here are five steps you can use to put an end to worrying.
1. Explore the origins of your worry. One way you can tell whether your worry is about the situation you’re in or the way you think is by exploring whether the worry is general or specific. If you worry about one specific thing (e.g., work, kids, money) but you don’t worry about everything, you should consider taking constructive action to change your situation.
But if you’re like me, and you worry about just about everything, then working on your “worrying thoughts” is a good first step. Either way, it’s good to investigate the origins of your worry so you can gain self-awareness.
2. Identify your unique worry patterns. Here are some thought patterns that lead to worry. Some people will find that they have all of these patterns; other people will just have a few. But by understanding what thoughts cause our worries, we can more easily resolve them.
- Catastrophizing is when we expect the worst possible outcomes.
- Minimization is when we downplay the good things.
- All-or-nothing thinking is when we interpret a situation as all good or all bad.
- Overgeneralization is when we believe that having one negative experience means we will always have this negative experience.
- Negative attention is when we focus on the negative things that went wrong rather than focusing on the positive things.
- Rumination is when we think about something distressing over and over again
- Mind reading is when we believe we know what others are thinking even though we haven’t actually asked them what they think.
Ask yourself: Which of these thought patterns do you have?
3. Stop worry by moving your body. When you worry, your sympathetic nervous system is activated (it’s the fight or flight system). Even if you completely stop worrying, it won’t get those neurochemicals out of your body right away. That’s why cardiovascular exercise can really help with worry.
Exercise activates the parasympathetic nervous system (in the longer term) which relieves stress and helps calm the body, returning it to its emotional baseline.
4. Try mindfulness to calm worries. The next step to stop worrying is by cultivating mindfulness. By sitting quietly, noticing your thoughts, and letting them go, mindfulness can help redirect worries. Over time, mindfulness can train the mind to calm the body so you don’t get so stuck in worries.
To practice mindfulness meditation all you need is a comfy spot. I find that a mediation video helps me stay focused while doing mindfulness.
Here’s a helpful mindfulness meditation video for a worried mind:
5. Talk to someone about your worries. Talking with a trusted counselor or friend can help you gain more perspective on your worry—Is it really worth worrying about? How can you think about this situation differently? Keeping your worries to yourself can lead them to build up and become overwhelming. By talking to someone, you can release some of the pressure.
But be cautious of who you talk to about your worries. Other worriers may make things worse. So just be thoughtful about who you share your worries with.