We're all familiar with Mr. Worry. He creeps up on you when you least expect him and enjoys making multiple visit. Worry can lead to a negative spiral of incrementally worse thoughts replete with hot flushes, sweat, muscle tension, and shortness of breath that makes you feel as if your heart is about to be squeezed out from between your ribs. Some victims experience anxiety or panic attacks when their worry levels become particularly high while others can become angry or withdrawn. Some, like myself, have phobias (mine has to do with pigeons). There are times when the worrying goes out of control and compounds itself with even more worry.
If this sounds all too familiar for you, here are some tried-and-tested strategies to help you shake off those heebie-jeebies. You don't have to execute all 11 steps. Choose the strategies that work most effectively for you.
1. Practise progressive muscle relaxation
If worry prevents you from getting to sleep, progressive muscle relaxation is a systematic way of tensing and relaxing different muscle groups so that you fall asleep before you know it. You can find apps for your phone, or download a script from the internet for free.
2. Immerse yourself in deep breathing exercises
If the physiological symptoms of anxiety are your problem, then deep breathing exercises will help to calm the nervous system. They are as simple as inhaling slowly for 4 seconds, holding for 2 seconds, and exhaling for 6 seconds. Diaphragmatic breathing comes from your belly, so try to put your hand there so you can monitor the rise and fall of your stomach.
3. Practise mindfulness
Try keeping a mindfulness diary or spend some time with a colouring book to unwind. Otherwise, try freestyle mindfulness exercises which involve labelling and describing your worries, or using imagery where you view your worries as clouds that drift away.
4. Map your hierarchy of fears
If you are dealing with a phobia that's important for you to overcome, create a stepped fear hierarchy. Detail your fear at the top of the pyramid before writing down 10 realistic steps for how you might increase your exposure to your fear, keeping in mind that each step should be more difficult to execute than the last. The key to success for this strategy is to repeat each step, or extend the time you are exposed to that particular step until you successfully desensitise your fears.
5. Attempt structured problem-solving
If you're more of a do-er, this method will help you to find a solution to real-world worries. All you have to do is write down the question, brainstorm all the possible ways to resolve the problem, draw up a list of a pros and cons, choose a solution, and action it.
6. Make distraction your friend
If the worry is something you can't change and you anticipate it at an impending event, distraction will be your best friend. Do something you enjoy, take yourself out of the worry-fraught environment, go for a walk, spend time with friends, or grab a nice meal.
7. Delineate 'worry time'
If worry is really getting on top of you and you can't get rid of these thoughts, delineating 'worry time' can be effective - even if it may seem paradoxical. You can write down your worries when they enter your mind and put them into a special box. Thereafter, set aside 15 minutes a day to review and think about them as much as you like. For the rest of the time, use distraction and other strategies to keep your mind worry-free.
8. Harness the power of listicles
A different take on delineating 'worry time' is to create two lists: A 'productive worry"' list and an "unproductive worry" list. The former details concerns you can do something about while the later addresses those beyond your realm of control. Use problem-solving skills to work on what you can change, and distraction or worry time to work out what you can't.
9. Practise realistic thinking
Think of yourself as a scientist and ask yourself whether your worries are realistic. Consider what you would say to a friend with similar problems. Have you faced anything like this previously? How would you talk about the situation as a "challenging situation that you overcame" in a job interview? Consider what you predict would happen, and what is more likely to happen.
10. Develop a coping script
When all else fails, fall back on a coping script. Write up a script you can say to yourself when the going gets tough. Coping scripts often include recognition and mindfulness of the emotion felt, being in the present moment with the thoughts and emotions, and end with a statement about what you will do next, which typically involves an activity you enjoy.
11. Seek social support
Talk to a friend or family member about what has been going on and see if they can help you. If that is too hard, seek out a professional or objective person who is able to guide you through strategies, or talk to you and support you through the stressful situation.
About Cissy Li
Originally from New Zealand, Cissy is a fan of thinking outside the box. She firmly believes that people can achieve greater fulfillment in their lives by being open and living authentically. When she's not busy living life, writing for Buro 24/7 Singapore, or engaging in volunteer work, Cissy enjoys her day job as a registered clinical psychologist.