We’re covering here what we can do if our level of worrying is something we're concerned about: we're doing it too much or we've been doing it for too long for example.
Quick caveat to begin with. There are lots of life situations that can be difficult for us, and to try and say 'Just don't worry about it' is not helpful. What we're focusing on here is what we can do if worrying has started to become a problem for us - we can't or don't want to do something about the situation we're in, but we do want to do something about the worrying. Whether you're a 'hard-core' worrier or a part-time fretter, worrying is in the main a pretty pointless exercise, unless it leads us to action/to move on and deal with things.
What can we do about it? If it was simple, you'd have done it already no doubt. It probably requires action on a number of different fronts - the one we’re going to look at here is how you approach it mainly from a cognitive perspective, what you think about and how you think about it. If you are a worrier, let's acknowledge that:
YOU ARE NOT YOUR STORY/YOUR PROBLEM: you have a life story/a life situation, but you are not defined by it, there is more to you than that
What we’re referring to here is that we can spend so long, so much time and effort focusing on that thing or those things that are wrong about ourselves or in our lives, that we don't leave room for anything else, and end up feeling that this is all there is to life, and this is who we are. As above, there is more to you than that, you are not just your past and what's happened to you for example, and there is a present and future for you, distinct from and separate to anything that's gone before.
YOU ARE NOT YOUR MIND: your mind is part of you, and 'directs' things for you, but it's not all of you, and you are in charge of it, not the other way around
We’re focusing on this 'separate-ness', because when you feel like
· what's happening to you
· what the world is doing to you
· what others are doing to you etc
is unhelpful and uncontrollable and there's nothing you can do, it can be helpful to acknowledge that you CAN in fact control your thoughts and feelings, you CAN do something about them, and you are powerful. Yes, you are!!!
YOU ARE NOT YOUR THOUGHTS
In connection with the mind and our thoughts, let's remember too that thoughts are just words in our mind. These words occupy us, they're our commentary, and help us to sort things out.................or not. As we've said before, our thinking dictates our feelings, so if you're thinking in ways that are unhelpful, and its leading to unhelpful feelings and perhaps behaviour, changing the way you think will help to change the way you feel.
How do we go about replacing unhelpful words/thoughts with more helpful ones, or maybe not having unhelpful chatter etc in our minds at all?
Thinking in unhelpful ways can lead to negative outcomes/symptoms in the four main response areas: PHYSICALLY - in your body, MENTALLY - how you think about things, EMOTIONALLY - how you feel and BEHAVIOURALLY - what you do, what you don't do. These four response areas are inextricably linked, so that if we feel bad or low emotionally, it can have negative physical implications, we can start behaving differently and so on. That's the bad news. The good news is that because this is a cyclical process, if we can make improvements in one of the areas, it will help in all of them. This means that, for example, if I'm physically fit, that's going to increase the chances of my being psychologically well too.
A few examples of the sorts of things you can try
· If you're anxious, or just feeling tense, get some exercise, as this will reduce those feelings (won't solve all your problems I know, but it will be helpful)
· Deep breathing will help too if we're feeling wound up - its difficult to be tense when you are breathing deeply. We can try a basic breathing exercise, like the Benson Relaxation Method. You can try this at home, or at work. Once we're calm, thinking and behaving in helpful ways will be a lot easier.
· Distract yourself: do something else, occupy your mind with something different
· Change the script. We said earlier that thoughts are just words. Why don't I try changing the words, if the script is upsetting? So, if you can pin it down and identify something you're saying over and over again to yourself, try replacing that thought with another one - it can be innocuous or non-sensical even, just as long as it's different, and as a result produces different results (i.e. un-troubling). This can be a useful technique if you're worrying and can't sleep at night: replace the unhelpful (train of) thought with something else. You can only think of one thing at a time, so there won't be room for something unhelpful. With regard to help with sleeping, take a look at our page on Improving Your Sleep.
· Have you tried writing things down? Get things out of your head and onto the page, perhaps in conjunction with the last point. You can either keep, and develop, what you've written, or ceremonially scrunch up the piece of paper, and throw it in the bin (where it belongs!!) Alternatively, draw a line down the middle of a piece of A4 paper - or type it up if that's better for you - and have a two-way conversation between yourself and your own personal coach/confidant(e):
|'I'm feeling a bit anxious'|
|'What about exactly?'|
|'Problem is I'm not 100% sure'|
|'Is this at home or at work?'|
|'Both really. What's happened is that|
|I've got into a position where I can't|
|think straight and everything's getting|
|on top of me'|
|'How has it been affecting you?'|
|(And so on)|
This has the benefit of getting things out, and we can then start to get to work on doing something about it.
DON'T CONNECT WITH AND IDENTIFY WITH-DON'T FUSE WITH-YOUR PROBLEMS/UNHELPFUL THOUGHTS
We're looking here to disengage with what's worrying us, and so avoid the thoughts and feelings that we find unhelpful. If we can engage with the 'here and now', and be mindful, and 'present', and notice what's happening/not happening, moment to moment, and be aware, it's less likely we'll fill our heads with any troubling thoughts, worries or concerns.
If you're interested in mindfulness and would like to learn more, have a look at 'Mindfulness in Plain English'.
Let's try and imagine you could disconnect and separate yourself and look dispassionately at your worrisome thoughts. How would that feel? How would you feel emotionally about that? Try it for 10 seconds, then half a minute, then a whole minute.
HAVE SOME 'WORRY' TIME
This is where you dedicate a particular period of the day for worrying - your 'Worry Time' - and worry for that set period, but then for the rest of the day you don’t allow yourself to worry. You could allow yourself a couple of slots a day, for 20 mins or half an hour (but don't make one close to bed-time).
(NB Please note that we would recommend getting in touch with a medical professional – for example your GP - if worrying is starting to affect your health).
These are just a few ideas. If you’d like to know more about how we can support you/your organisation with our one-to-one coaching or group training, please contact Marc Kirby at Stress Management Plus on 0118 3283246 or via email.