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How to Stop Worrying

Worrying doesn't prevent things from happening, it just means you suffer twice if they do. Here are three strategies to help you stop worrying. 

By
Ellen Hendriksen, PhD,
Episode #246
Worried woman

Tip #1 - Make time to worry. 

Even though this is the least intensive of the three tips, this tool serves a great function. Simply set aside part of your day for worrying.

Think of worry as a goldfish that grows as big as the tank you put it in. By limiting the amount of time you allow yourself to worry, your worries stay small rather than taking up your whole day. So, pick a time—maybe your afternoon commute, or the three o’clock slump, or right after dinner—as your worry time. Keep your tank small so your worry can't grow.

The point of worry time isn’t to suppress worries and never have them. The point is to contain the worry so it doesn’t contaminate your life like an oil spill.

When worries bubble up outside of your designated time, ask yourself, “Can I do something about this right now?” If you can, take action. If you start to worry that you forgot to pay your credit card bill, pay it. If you just fought with your partner and you’re worried you hurt their feelings, apologize.

But if you start to worry that you’ll die alone, or that your kid could be hurt at school, or that you’re going to end up with dementia, there’s nothing you can actively do in the moment. So punt it. Kick those thoughts to your worry time. Chances are, when worry time rolls around, you’ll have forgotten about those disruptive thoughts, or at the very least, they will have lost their urgency. Think of delaying worrying as the best kind of procrastination—you assign yourself a task to do later, but that task usually disappears on its own.

And if it sticks around? Go ahead and worry about it for a few minutes. The point of worry time isn’t to suppress worries and never have them. The point is to contain the worry so it doesn’t contaminate your life like an oil spill. 

Tip #2: Experiment with acting confident and decisive.

We all have that friend who goes through life rolling with the punches. Any way the wind blows, they bend without breaking.

Now, that friend may have some of their own problems—they miss out because they didn’t plan ahead, their spontaneity can sometimes bleed over into impulsivity, and people get mad because they can forget to follow through on promises. 

But anxiety isn’t one of their problems. 

So when you’re sick of feeling anxious—you’ve sunk eight hours into researching which slow cooker to buy, you won’t let yourself hit “send” on that job application even though you’ve checked it for typos fifteen times, or you’re worried your partner is dead because you haven’t heard from them for four hours, ask yourself what that friend would do. 

And then, try it on for size. Do what your non-anxious friend would do. It will feel wrong at first, but here’s the benefit. Experimenting with non-anxious behavior forces you to try on a more flexible way of thinking and acting. 

And, once you’ve road tested researching slow cookers for only ten minutes, checked your job application over just twice, and texted your partner only after you haven’t heard from them all day, you realize your worry wasn’t keeping you safe after all. You were safe all along.

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