Worry can begin as a random "what if" thought meandering through our minds that grabs our attention. We get concerned with potential consequences, and become afraid of outcomes that will probably never happen.
Subsequently, we often become fixated on these made-up outcomes until suddenly we can’t think about anything other than our anxiety. Maybe we have a knot in our stomachs, or all our muscles tense up, and these physical sensations distract us from everything that is good or beautiful in our lives in that moment.
Most importantly, this anxiety might end up making you feel a little hopeless—after all, anxiety isn’t avoidable, right? It's out of your control...
While I can’t tell you how to stop worrying completely (sorry), I do know worrying can become a cycle that leads to more anxiety, and I can help you break it.
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Here are a few tips for finding hope when anxiety strikes:
Take Time to be Concerned
First, take some time to be concerned. That sounds counter-intuitive, right? But if we take some time to feel our anxiety—and put a time limit on it—we can get the worries out of our system and get on with our days. Set a timer for 1, 2, or 10 minutes on whatever is on your mind, depending on how big the issue is. Lean in and feel free to worry. Write down all the potential catastrophic events in your future and wallow in your concerns. Then, when the timer rings, stop. Consider your anxieties transferred from your mind to the paper and move on.
Distract Yourself from Worry
If your thoughts keep nagging at you after the time limit has expired, get busy and distract yourself! I’m not talking about mindless activities like binge-watching Netflix— (yes, we’ve all been there, and we all know it doesn’t work to make us feel better in the end). Instead, be active. Try going out with a friend, exercising, writing, drawing—anything that you truly enjoy, that you need to be mindful of, and that will raise your endorphin levels. You might find your worrisome thoughts disappearing despite your mind’s desire to keep them there.
Maybe distraction worked for a while, but you just can’t let go of your fears. Robert L. Leahy, author of The Worry Cure: 7 Steps to Stop Worry From Stopping You, has an interesting idea: keep repeating your fear over and over—preferably out loud—until you get bored and it loses its power over you. This might seem strange, but Leahy has a PhD and is the director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy, so I would trust him. No harm in trying, right?
What Result is Most Likely?
I don’t know how persistent your worries are, so maybe they’ll pop up again. If so, try rationalizing the situation. You might be considering only the worst-case scenario, so write down the outcome you’re worried about and all other possible outcomes. After all, your reality might not be THE reality. How likely is it that your fears will come true? Is the worst-case scenario the most probable? Chances are, you’re jumping to unlikely conclusions and there is nothing to be anxious about. If that’s not the case, it might be time to approach the situation head-on, accept it, and figure out how to handle it.
Count Your Blessings to Reduce Anxiety
At some point, worry might just be a fact of life, but you can take your focus off it with appreciation and gratitude. Count your blessings—even writing down five things you’re grateful for can help. Think about a beloved person or animal that instantly brightens your day. If you remember all the good things in your life, you might just realize that the good outweighs whatever you're afraid of. How could you not feel better after that?
Whether you use one of these strategies or all of them, this is the key to finding hope in your darkest moments. Realize that we might not be able to stop worry from rearing its ugly head, but we can learn how to stop worrying once we start. It’s just a matter of finding a strategy that works for you, believing in it, and keeping your mind open to new outlooks and different possibilities.
Our life is what our thoughts make it.” ~Dale Carnegie