If worry is alien to you, then you might want to check your pulse. Studies show that worry extends across our entire lifespans—over our finances, relationships, families, work, you name it.
A small amount of worry that does not disrupt your day is normal, expected and sometimes even productive. After all, it can help you assess risks, detect and attend to threats, and focus on potential solutions to the problems you face.
But once worry gets out of control, it can seep into every decision you make and significantly disrupt your life.
Let’s examine how and why this happens—and how to prevent it.
This Is Your Brain on Worry
When a negative thought enters the brain, you have two options: You can let it have a life of its own, or you can control it with your attention. But here is where the problem lies: Those who are big worriers don’t have much attentional control.
When this is the case, worry not only takes over the brain, but it also attacks thought processes and causes people to become even more glued to the worrisome issues.
A recent review led by psychologist Colette Hirsch outlined that people who worry all the time have excessive attention to threat—even when it is not clear a threat is actually present. This is not necessarily a conscious decision—it could actually be due to genetic variations—so the best way to predict and understand worry is not to ask people whether they feel anxious. Rather, it is to understand their unconscious tendencies toward threat.
People who worry often think that their anxieties will help or protect them in some way. They also feel convinced that their own thoughts and worries cannot be controlled. Deep down, though, worriers cannot tolerate uncertainty, and when they worry out loud, it helps them avoid doubt and even more potential negativity.
How to Feel Good About Worrying
To a certain extent, worries are related to how you feel about yourself. A recent study showed that when you feel better about yourself emotionally and physically, you worry less. Here are three tips to help you lessen your worries through positive thoughts:
1. Find some good news.
Switch off the bad news and turn on the good news—not just on the TV, but also in your head. You have to make a point of it. Set aside time in the morning to affirm the positive in your life.
When you find yourself worrying, learn to immediately think of one thing you appreciate. Then, given that your mind is prone to wandering, do something that holds your attention. Watch a great movie, play an online game, have a conversation with a loved one—these are all great ways to ground your worrisome, overactive mind.
2. Be what you can be.
Overcome your intolerance of uncertainty by accepting the things you cannot control. Make a list of them, and when you think of them, drop them. Then, given that self-efficacy can help quell worry, why not begin building yourself up—both physically and emotionally? Practice being what you want to be, rather than waiting for yourself to magically become it.
I’m not suggesting that you should become the Dalai Lama or Hulk Hogan; I’m suggesting that you should invest in yourself. Hire a trainer who can guide you to better physical health, or find someone who will hold you accountable. Also, invest in building your self-efficacy by forgiving yourself for past mistakes and setting up small wins for your future.
3. Create an anti-worry day.
Take control of your day. First thing in the morning, spend five minutes writing down three things you appreciate about yourself and your life. Then, head to the gym to meet your trainer or workout partner and set small, achievable goals. After that, go into your office with the intention of stopping the chaos caused by worrying before it even begins. If you find your mind wandering, take a 10-minute game break, call a friend or turn on your favorite song.
Toward the end of the day, it can be easy to let your guard down and feel negative thoughts concerning yourself and your uncertain future. This is when you need to keep identifying and letting go of the things you can’t control.
It’s inhuman to feel no worry, so instead of searching to eliminate it from your brain altogether, use it to identify what makes you happy, what your goals are, and how you can become the greatest possible version of yourself.