Updated: Feb 18, 2020
SELF-HELP TIPS FOR LIVING WITH ANXIETY
Worrying can even be quite helpful sometimes. It can motivate us to work hard, be productive, and solve problems...
So how do you know when worry crosses the line into a problem that needs to be dealt with? Great question.
Are you preoccupied with “what ifs” and worst-case scenarios?
Are you experiencing unrelenting anxious thoughts?
Do your fears feel paralyzing?
Do you feel drained of all of your emotional energy?
Is your worry interfering with your daily life?
Good news... chronic worrying is a habit that can be broken. You can re-train your brain to stay calm and see situations in a more balanced, less fearful way.
In one of our #mentalhealthmonday lives about living with anxiety with Sarah Chana Radcliffe, she talked about the "Amazon model of the Brain". How, just like Amazon algorithms will adjust to our buying patterns, our thoughts can adjust to new thought patterns, and begin to suggest more positive thoughts based on your new "buying habits".
So, How much is too much?
Worries, fears, and anxieties are a normal part of life.
It’s natural to worry about all sorts of day-to day issues. A test coming up... a job interview... a first date... a public speaking engagement...
So when you ask how much worry is too much worry... there is a pretty simple answer. If you can’t get anxious thoughts out of your head no matter what you try, and they are impacting your day-to-day functioning, it's too much. Nothing should not stand in the way of doing "normal" things that are important. If you are finding that you have not taken a shower in a week or that you have not gotten out of bed in a few days (and you are not sick with the flu or something terminal) it might be time to get some help.
Constant intrusive thoughts can take a huge toll on your emotional and physical health. It can cause symptoms like;
Difficulty concentrating at work or school
Social issues (when you take out your negative feelings out on other people)
Self-medicating with alcohol or drugs
Zoning out while watching TV, reading or scrolling on your phone
If you are experiencing these things regularly (even if it's only a few of them), you may want to check and see if you have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), a common anxiety disorder that can disrupt your life if left untreated. You can take a quick and free mental health screening here to see if it's worth exploring: https://www.jproactive.com/resources .
Why is it so hard to stop worrying?
It is so normal to develop cognitive distortions during your life, especially if you are raised in a family that is caught in a web of inter-generational trauma, inheriting some cognitive distortions, and through nature or nurture, has passed on this generous gift to you (that was sarcastic, in case you didn't realize).
Cognitive distortions are not based in reality, however, they can be difficult to identify (and once identified, hard to give up) because they are often part of a pattern of thinking that’s become so automatic, that you are not even completely aware of it. This way of thinking often feels more comfortable than a healthier way of thinking.
But let me help you with a few reality checks to get you started on your journey to cognitive health;
Worrying will NOT help you find a solution to your problem.
Worry will NOT prevent you from being ambushed by unpredictable events.
Worrying will NOT protect you in any way.
Worry does NOT make you seem more responsible or caring.
Worry RARELY serves a positive purpose.
Worrying is the problem. It's NOT the solution.
You can’t just tell yourself to stop worrying
You can't tell yourself to stop worrying. In fact, trying to banish worry altogether actually makes the worrying worse. It's like telling yourself not to think of the word "chicken". If you do that... all you would be thinking of is chicken. I'm telling you, test this out for yourself. I bet you are thinking about chicken soup, why someone who is afraid is called a chicken, wondering why the chicken really crossed the road, about the tasty schnitzel you plan to eat for dinner... I would be very surprised if you actually went an entire minute without thinking about the word chicken.
“Thought stopping” backfires because it makes us pay extra attention to the thought you try to avoid. It makes the thought seem more important than it really is.
So let's learn how to re-train our brains...
# 1 HIT THE PAUSE BUTTON
Do you sometimes feel like intrusive thoughts are on auto repeat inside your head? This can make you feel dis-regulated, burning out, out of control, or even like you are going crazy. But there are steps you can take right now to hit the pause button and give your brain a brake from the seemingly endless worrying;
Work Out: Exercise is a natural and effective way to release endorphins which can relieve the tension and stress related to anxiety. By focusing on how your body feels as you move (like breathing, targeting specific muscles, felt sensations...) you can interrupt the constant flow of intrusive and anxious thoughts running through your head. You can walk, run, swim, dance, box or take a yoga class. Each of these can help increase health while giving your brain a chance to reset.
Meditate: Meditation allows you to focus on the here and now. When we are engaged in the present moment, anxieties about the future and depressive thoughts about the past, have an opportunity to subside. There are some great apps and YouTube videos that you can try to help with this.
Deep Breathing. Anxiety tends to speed up our heart-rate and make our breathing more quick and shallow. This feeds the anxiety even more. Deep breathing exercises can help get the oxygen flow better and slow down our heart rate.
# 2 IDENTIFY & Talk about your FEELINGS
Sometimes its really hard to identify our feelings. A strong emotional vocabulary is not always so intuitive, especially if a lack of attunement has been inherited from family members.
It may seem like a simplistic solution, but talking identifying your feelings and then talking about them with someone who will not be judgmental, criticizing, or who will get distracted can really calm your nervous system and diffuse anxiety. This non-judgmental person can even be you when you learn some tools.
Here is a chart you can study, that can help you identify your feelings about a situation and it will hopefully help you to increase your emotional vocabulary.
When your worries start spiraling, talk them over. It should begin to diffuse the situation. Keeping worries to yourself only causes them to build up until they seem more overwhelming than they actually are. Saying them out loud can help you to make sense of what you’re feeling and put things in perspective.
When it gets to the point that you are still spinning wheels even after you have identified your feelings and talked them over, it may be helpful to discuss your feelings with a professional. You do not have to do this alone.
# 3 mindfulness
Depression is generally caused by being fixated on or feeling sad about the past. Anxiety is usually focused on the future, like the ever-popular "what ifs" and fears about what might happen. Being mindful of the present allows you to break free of your worries. Basically, you observe your worries and then let them go. It's not always as simple as that, but once you have identified your cognitive distortions, you are better positioned to let go of irrational thoughts, which will then shift your emotions. Hence, mindfulness.
# 4 PUSH OFF THE worrying
Rather than trying to stop or get rid of an anxious thought, give yourself permission to have it, but schedule a time to focus on it later. Some helpful tips might be;
Set aside a special “worry time” each day. Make a daily set time and a set place (not too close to bedtime). During your worry time, you’re allowed to worry about anything and everything. But stick to those boundaries. Make a list on your phone or keep a pad of paper in your bag about the things you want to discuss with yourself during your worry time so you don't have to worry that you will forget.
Go over your “worry list” during your worry time only. Make sure to stay within your time allotted and go through your list one by one, crossing off the things that you are not actually still worried about. You will likely notice that just writing them down helped to alleviate the worry of most of the issues and there will be less things on the list to deal with than you originally thought.
Use your worry time to challenge your cognitive distortions. As you develop the ability to postpone your anxious thoughts, you will start to realize that you have more control over your thoughts. You can then devote this time to challenging the distortions that have tripped you up in the past. Get curious. Look for evidence. Re-frame. Look for other sides of the story. Begin to challenge yourself to discover other truths.
# 5 IS IT solvable OR unsolvable?
It sounds really strange, but research shows that worrying actually makes you feel less anxious, but only temporarily. Ruminating actually helps to distract you from your emotions, and makes you feel more accomplished. This is a trick of the brain. An allusion. Worrying and problem-solving are very different from each-other.
Actual problem solving involves evaluating a situation (which is most effective without judgement), coming up with a plan to deal with it (in a rational way), and taking action.
Worrying will rarely lead to a solution. It's pretty much just keeping your mind busy so you don't have to feel the emotions related to what is really going on. No matter how much time you spend ruminating and dwelling, you will not be more prepared to deal with whatever it is you are worrying about (if it actually happens).
So ask yourself these questions when you feel like you are getting sucked into a vortex of worry;
1. Is your problem solvable? If there is any way to take action to solve the problem, it is worth worrying about. For example, if you’re worried about how you will make a payment on your credit card, you can re-jig your finances, make a budget, get an extra part-time job... Worrying about whether you will get cancer one day or if you are going to get into a car accident when you drive on the highway is not productive. You can make plans to live a healthy lifestyle and drive safely, but these are not rational worries to ruminate about.