Worry and anxiety are sometimes necessary byproducts of life. But worrying too much can actually seriously affect our well-being, and it's why letting go of worry when possible is an extremely positive thing to master.
Don't get me wrong — worry is actually a normal and healthy part of being human. According to psychologist Marcia Reynolds in a piece for Psychology Today, the main purpose of worry is to keep us alive. Our ancestors in caves were faced with many potential threats all day long, and the ones who worried were more likely to keep themselves safe and protected, passing on those useful self-preservation genes to the next generation. Our brains are literally hardwired for worry.
The flip side of that, Reynolds said, is that in modern life our minds can "skew our thoughts toward pessimism and worrying about the worst that can happen." We are constantly assessing our lives for threats or potentially bad outcomes, even when things really aren't that bad, and even worse, can prevent ourselves from enjoying the good things that we do have.
If you feel consumed by worry and are trying to make a change, here are seven ways to help you worry less and enjoy life more.
1. Identify When You Are Worrying
In an article for Psych Central, Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. discussed Chad Lee's book The Worry Trap: How to Free Yourself from Worry & Anxiety Using Acceptance & Commitment Therapy. In his book, Lee said the first step to decreasing worry in our lives is to simply identify when we are worrying. Lee noted that worrying can be anything as big as, "What if I'm really sick?" to as small as, "Why did I say that at that party!?" He said as soon as you recognize a thought for what it is, you are instantly better able to separate yourself from it.
2. Identify Why You Are Worrying
Reynold said that it's also important to recognize why you are worrying, or what your brain is trying to protect you from. She said to ask yourself, "What is at stake, really? What can harm me? Is it true?" And then, if there is actually an action you can take, think, "If I can take action, what are the consequences of taking a risk, really? If I make the phone call, have the conversation, change my job, or just back off and let things be, what is the worst that can happen? Is it possible that this change could lead to something good?" All of these things will help you productively work through your worry.
3. Try To Relax As Soon As You Start Worrying
In his book, Lee recommended trying to physically relax the moment you realize you are actively worrying. This can mean simple breathing techniques or even playing some relaxing music that you find particularly soothing. Your goal is to try to overcome the anxious physical response that comes when your mind is worrying, as the stress hormones flooding your body will only make you more on edge.
4. Separate Fact From Fiction
A piece on Anxieties.com, a site specifically designed to help people work through their anxiety, stressed the importance of separating fact from fiction when it comes to worrying. If you're worried that your beautiful new couch is going to get ruined, or you're afraid you won't give a good presentation at work, remind yourself that these are things that have not yet happened and exist only in your mind. Actively tell yourself your thoughts are just thoughts and not indicative of actual truths.
5. Devote Time To Worry
The piece on Anxieties.com also suggested the strategy of devoting a specific block of time to worry in your day. Instead of letting worries overwhelm you while you're at work, for example, making you less efficient, tell yourself you are going to give yourself 30 solid minutes that evening to go crazy with worry and let it out. You can also reserve that time to make a list and come up with possible solutions to make you feel more in control of whatever is bothering you.
6. Go Easy On Yourself
Reynolds also reminded us to go easy on ourselves when we feel ourselves worrying. "First, forgive yourself for worrying. Everyone worries in their own way. Relax. Find gentler ways to talk to yourself. Trust that things will work out, because they often do." She also noted that, "When your brain is in a more relaxed state, it is easier to see new solutions and possibilities."
7. Get Moving
In a piece for Tiny Buddha, life coach and blogger Evelyn Lim recommended simply getting outside and moving your body. "Although exercise may not actually solve the issues that are causing you to feel anxious, engaging yourself in activity takes your mind off things. You become clearer after taking a break," Lim said.
Worry is a necessary and often valuable aspect of life, but it shouldn't consume you or actively make you unhappy on a regular basis. If your worry levels are reaching an unhealthy or unhelpful threshold, these tips should definitely help. And if you're feeling overwhelmed, never, ever be afraid to ask for help. Mental Health America and The National Alliance On Mental Illness can help you locate mental health support in your area.