Worry can feel stubborn and insidious. When you’re filled with what-if thoughts, it’s tough to concentrate on anything else. It’s tough to fall or stay asleep. It’s tough to enjoy yourself. It’s tough to do anything but think about self-doubts, worst-case scenarios, and overwhelmed feelings.
But while worry can absolutely feel stubborn and insidious, we aren’t powerless. We can take action to diminish worry and feel better.
In The No Worries Workbook: 124 Lists, Activities, and Prompts to Get Out of Your Head―and On with Your Life! writer and editor Molly Burford shares invaluable strategies. Here are seven to try from her book.
- Identify what you can (and can’t) control. Worry convinces us that obsessing about a situation is somehow productive. Maybe you realize it’s not. But in the moment, it’s tough to pull yourself out of the what-if storm. It feels like there’s nothing you can do. Create two columns in your notebook: “What I Can Control” and “What I Can’t Control.” For example, you can control your reaction to a problem. You cannot control what your coworker thinks.
- Refocus on gratitude. This not only helps you ease worry; it helps to put life into perspective. Burford suggests appreciating these beautiful things: “the scars on your heart that show you have cared for something deeply—and will again; the sounds of the world around you; the body that carries you through each day; the fresh start you woke up to this morning; the bed you get to come home to each night; this moment of awareness you get to experience right now; the sky.”
- Use these reminders. Make two columns in your notebook. In the first column, jot down your current worry. In the second column, note how it will be OK. Remember that even if your worry does come true, you will get through it.
- Pinpoint unhelpful actions. Our behavior can bolster worry, or transform minor thoughts into major meltdowns. Reflect on what tends to exacerbate your anxiety. This might be anything from drinking three cups of coffee to scrolling social media to watching a depressing show. If you’re not sure, Burford suggests thinking “about a past scenario where your worry quickly went from o to 100. What accelerated the freak-out?”
- Thank your worry. According to Burford, “worry is often posed as the enemy, but often it is like that well-meaning but misguided friend who is just trying to help.” This doesn’t mean that you let worry run your life. It means that you’re taking a more compassionate stance. For example, you might write: “Thank you for your input, but I choose to believe this problem will work itself out in its own time.” Or, you might mention that you’re taking action on that worry, so you’re all set.
- Draw your worries. Drawing helps you better understand your thoughts and emotions around worry. It also helps “in easing negative emotions, as sometimes all you need is to let it all out—just like venting about a bad workday to a friend!” And it’s totally OK if you’re sketching stick figures and shapes. There’s no drawing skill required for this tip! The benefit resides in using a different way to express what’s swirling inside.
- Try this meditation. Meditation is powerful for “calming overactive thoughts and refocusing your mind on the present moment.” Start by sitting comfortably in a quiet space. Take a deep breath through your nose, and feel a sense of calm traveling through your body. As your chest expands, feel it filling with relaxation. Notice your muscles loosening. Exhale through your mouth, and visualize hope. What does it look like? “What possibilities are you expelling into the universe as you breathe out now?” Keep repeating these steps until the worry melts away.
When you’re immersed in worry thoughts, it can feel like you’ll never break free and savor calm again. Thankfully, that’s not the case. Pick your favorite strategies from above, or research other tools that resonate with you. This way, when worry arises, you’re feeling overwhelmed, and the what-if thoughts won’t quit, you’ll be prepared. You’ll have a collection of strategies you can turn to and effectively cope.