Most of us are worrying too much on a daily basis. Worrying is not productive, and most of this worry limits our ability to think, produce, perform, and live life. I have several simple and effective strategies for managing daily worries that work for children, tweens, teens, and adults alike.
1. Start your day with some deep breaths.
My day often starts with a wave of overwhelm about the tasks ahead and the lack of time to complete them. When you start the day overwhelmed, the worry begins. “How will I be able to get all this done? What if I don’t have enough time? What if I let people down? What if I fall behind and can’t catch up?” Start your day with 30-60 seconds of deep breathing. This will bring oxygen to your brain and trick your brain into feeling calm. Your body will feel more calm too.
2. Check your thinking.
Once you have recalibrated your brain and body with some deep breathing, check in with your thinking. Investigate and observe your thoughts. You will likely find they are filled with “What if,” “What will people think” and “I should be” statements. Those statements actually trigger the fear center of your brain to be alert and ready for “fight or flight.” This is why you get the physical sensations in your chest (lungs restricting), headaches and light-headed (blood leaving your brain for your arms and legs to mobilize), and stomachaches and butterflies (blood leaving your stomach for arms and legs).
3. Change your thinking.
Just as our anxious and irrational thinking turns on our fear center, changing our thinking to more adaptive and rational thoughts turns down our alarm system and puts it in “rest mode.” Try replacing your thoughts with something like, “I know I have a lot to do today. I will prioritize and get as much done as I can.” Or, “I know a lot of people are counting on me. I always do the best I can and will continue to. That’s all I can do.” You will be surprised how doing this (and trying to believe the new thought) will result in more room to think and breathe.
4. Stay in the present.
This is the most simple and effective technique, yet so often hard to do. All worry exists in the future. The outcome or lack of outcome you are likely worrying about has not happened yet. How do I know? Because all the “What ifs” are about the future, and further, we often don’t have control over the outcome of the future event we are worrying about. “What if my child has another bad day?” “What if I don’t get the promotion?” “What if I get laid off?” The key is that they haven’t happened yet. So focus on the present, and if you drift to the future, tell yourself you will problem solve and figure it out then.
5. Commit to a worry-free hour, half day, and eventually day.
Worrying less requires a full commitment. Most of us want to worry less, but we just want it to happen. Worrying less takes determination, courage, and practice. Make less worrying a priority — commit to scheduling a worry-free (or even a worry less) time. Start with an hour, part of a day, and eventually a full-day. On the flip side, if you need time to worry, schedule that too, but then move quickly back to being worry-free.