We recently talked about anxiety on this blog. In general, anxiety shows up more in the body and worry shows up more in the mind. “Worrying is thinking about a potential problem, and anxiety is feeling it in your body.” It is very normal to experience these two responses from time to time, as long as it does not interfere with daily functioning. You may recall learning that worry can actually help us feel energized to take action or solve a problem. But if you notice you have become preoccupied with the “what ifs” and feel overwhelmed by anxious thoughts, contact your health care professional to receive the attention and support you need.
Normal worry becomes excessive as soon as it becomes persistent and uncontrollable. Follow the steps below to help keep your worrisome thoughts in check!
- Get Moving. Exercise is a natural and effective way to decrease anxiety and worry. When you move your body, you release endorphins with alleviate stress and tension. Plus, you’ll get a bonus energy boost, too!
- Try Yoga. Yoga and Tai Chi are two practices that help you focus on your breath and body movements. This trains your mind to stay focused on the present moment – not allowing it to stay stuck in the past or overwhelmed by the future.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation. PMR is when you alternately tense and then release individual muscles of the body. Tensing and relaxing parts of the body, while practicing deep breathing, helps the mind and body to re-learn what anxiety feels like and what relaxation feels like. When you start to become worried, re-direct the attention on the leg muscles, tense for 10 seconds, and then completely release.
- Deep Breathing. When worry strikes, the breath often becomes short and shallow, which in turn leads to further anxiety. Break the loop by relaxing the shoulders, softening the muscles of the face, and taking 10 long, deep breaths using your belly.
- Talk About It. Talk to a trusted friend face-to-face about the worries that overwhelm you. Talking about them with another person will help you feel freedom from the spiraling thoughts and it will also allow you to gain perspective!
- Acknowledge & Observe. One of the worst things to do with a worry, is deny it exists. Get out a sheet of paper or open a note on your smartphone and be honest about your worries.
- Challenge It. Some worries are valid, but many are not. Ask yourself, ‘What’s the evidence that the thought is true?’ ‘What’s the evidence that the thought is not true?’ ‘Is there a more positive, realistic way of looking at the situation?’
Overcoming worry is not an overnight process and can often feel difficult or perhaps even impossible. This is because cognitive distortions (i.e. expecting the worst, all-or-nothing thinking, etc.) are usually formed over a long time and eventually become so habitual, you may not even be aware of it. You can’t just tell yourself to stop worrying. So remember to be patient and kind with yourself as you practice these techniques to regain control of your worried mind.