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As we all know, nothing good ever comes from worrying; it doesn’t solve our problems, it disrupts our focus, and it certainly doesn’t relax us. When faced with a stressful situation, why do we tend to let worry take over?
The right response would be to ‘just relax,’ ‘forget about it,’ or ‘brush it off.’ However, that advice is easier said than done. As humans, we are programmed to figure out how to survive, and sometimes, worrying is the body's natural ‘fight-or-flight’ response to a perceived threat.
The problem with worry is when we can’t control it – when it paralyzes us and undermines our quality of life. The worry then activates a stress response, resulting in feelings of hopelessness, despair, and even depression.
Although worry is the body’s natural reaction to unexpected events, there are ways you can effectively manage it. Here’s how to stop worry dead in its tracks and find the peace of mind you need to keep moving forward:
You can’t help what you don’t acknowledge, so the first step in controlling worry is to call it out as soon as it emerges. Recognize when you're worrying, and when an irrational thought crosses your mind. Becoming aware of your emotional state as it occurs engages a thinking response, rather than a fight-or-flight response.
For many of us, our breathing and heart rate naturally accelerates when under stress. To counteract this response, take long, deep breaths through your nose and exhale slowly. Slow and controlled breathing sends your entire body a cue to relax.
When your mind starts panicking about what might happen in the future, stop yourself by focusing on the here and now. In the present moment, you’re okay and safe. Remind yourself that your thoughts of dire outcomes are actually creating your sense of danger, and don’t reflect current reality. Bringing your awareness back into the now eases fearful emotions and allows for more sensible thinking.
Worry is often about the future, the past, or what other people think – and all of these factors have one thing in common: they are beyond your control. When you place all of your attention on things that you can’t control, you place unnecessary stress on your nervous system. Instead of imagining the worst case scenarios, focus on what you do have control over.
Sometimes the best strategy is to take your mind off the situation at hand by doing something that brings you a feeling of achievement or happiness. Tackling an item on your to-do list, organizing the pantry, or trying out a new recipe engages your thinking brain and increases dopamine (the brain’s happy chemical). Taking action – whether it involves working out at the gym or working on your favorite hobby – improves your perceived control of the present situation, diverting your focus away from the worry and elevating your mood in the process.
Don’t let another potentially pleasant day be wiped out by worry. With repetition, these five practices can lead to less anxiety, panic, and dread in the face of the unexpected. If you get stuck in a worry pit, remember that your thoughts shape your experience. You can stop the spiral of anxiety simply by calling out the worry and replacing it with more productive feelings and actions. You have a choice of what you allow into your head – negative or positive – so make it a good one.
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