Back in college, I was asked to do a spoken poetry performance. Before the event, I was really anxious and worried. Even though I put a lot of effort into my writing and memorizing my lines, all I could think of were the “what ifs” that might happen. What if I slip on the stage with everyone watching me? What if I stutter? What if I forget my lines? What if I passed out? And the list of worst-case scenarios went on and on.
We’ve all been there. We worry about the future. But for most of us, worrying doesn’t only happen when we are about to face a major situation. It seems brutal but worrying is a part of our everyday life–everyone experiences it many times. It’s natural to worry about the email you just sent, a task that you have not finished yet, or your upcoming presentation. When you worry, you are not only thinking about the future and what you can do about it but also you can become preoccupied with thoughts about the past and what you could have done which kind of sucks because if you think of it, you really don’t get to enjoy the present, and there’s nothing you can do about what is already done, so it’s kinda stupid!.
In some cases, worrying can be useful. After considering the possible outcomes of a certain situation, it helps us plan and prepares us to avoid things that could go wrong in the future. But how do you know when it is too much? If it consumes us. Worrying can leave us feeling anxious for no reason by dwelling on our past and trying to make it right. And to worry about something that you cannot change is stupid!
So instead of tormenting ourselves by trying to control what is uncontrollable, there are things that you can do to stop worrying about something you did or something you think might happen — this includes mindfulness techniques and organizing our thoughts. Through making these things a habit, you can breathe and relax more!
But first, to fully appreciate the techniques on how to stop worrying, it is also important to know why it needs to be stopped by taking a look at how it might negatively affect our day-to-day activities as well as our health.
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Research shows that excessive worriers tend to overthink and can generate multiple potential outcomes triggered by one situation. It can become frequent and severe as they develop to a wider range of negative thoughts. This can lead to emotional stress that can become habitual. And just like any other habit, this might become uncontrollable, excessive, and can harm our mind and body.
According to studies, persistent worrying causes numerous health problems, these can include:
- Sleep problems
- Memory Problems
- Heart palpitations and respiratory problems
- Headaches and irritability
- Exhaustion and difficulty concentrating
- Increased levels of stress
So as we can see… a little worry can be helpful, but when you notice that you have been experiencing constant and excessive worrying about small details, that steal the joy of living in the present, then it’s harming you and it is time to stop this negative cycle and solve it by keeping your worry under control.
It is not healthy to become a worrier of the past as it just brings discomfort about something that you did. As Emma Bombeck said, “Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere”. And it’s true! It makes us think that we are productive by pointing out what we should have done or what can we do in the future but in reality, we cannot solve problems that we have no control over or when we are not actually doing anything with regards to what we can change!
So what now? Be a warrior.
When we think of a warrior, we visualize a person with determination and aggressiveness, someone who is fully prepared and carefully develops a strong mental attitude to respond to any situation. In contrast with being a worrier, it can be healthy to use reflection and consideration as a mechanism to develop determination and motivation to face certain situations. Also, when things do go wrong, your ‘worry’ prepared you to potentially help diminish the emotional impact. You have already thought of potential problems and as a warrior, you are adaptive enough to lay down solutions. So, to make your worry useful, unleash the warrior mindset to turn the negative impact of worrying about stupid things into preparation & productivity for positive & healthy outcomes.
Now that we understand that worrying isn’t good for us and there is something that we can do about it, so… how to stop worrying about the past?
“Instead of worrying about what you cannot control, shift your energy to what you can create.”
―Roy T. Bennett
Overcoming worry isn’t easy but don’t worry! It is entirely possible to adopt these tips and train your mind to stop worrying. Put things in perspective and stop being preoccupied with negative thought patterns.
This is a two-step process. The first stage is to calm the mind, slow it down and stop the racing worrying thoughts. The second stage then looks at the area of concern from a new perspective and creates some solutions to stop the worry process starting up again.
As you experience the problem of being preoccupied with thoughts of yesterday and plans for tomorrow, try to shift your attention to the present. Basically, we want to teach our minds how to stop overthinking everything. To stop ourselves in worrying too much, here are some techniques that you might want to start off:
You might be thinking “Really? Breathing?”. Yes! To help us relax and become more at ease, it must be deep, conscious breathing. Studies show that this allows us to shift and release the negative energy that is stored in our bodies. Specifically, box breathing can reduce stress and improve your mood that will help you to think clearly.
To start, you can sit or lie down. Just make sure that you can breathe freely.
How to do Box Breathing:
- Slowly exhale through your mouth.
- Then, inhale gently through your nose to a count of 4 slowly in your head.
- Hold your breath for another slow count of 4.
- Then exhale through your mouth for another count of 4.
- Pause and hold your breath for a count of 4 before repeating this process.
Box breathing can be useful to calm ourselves if we’re feeling overwhelmed, trying to reduce stress, setting intentions, and reset our mind. It may be difficult at first since we are used to breathing rapidly due to our constant moving. But after practicing it more often, maybe you can do it longer than the recommended 4 repetitions!
Meditation has many benefits. One of which is to refresh and calm our minds. With regard to worry, it helps us to observe from an outside perspective. There are many methods on the internet of how you can meditate effectively, which can be overwhelming. For beginners, you might want to start with finding a quiet place to just sit comfortably for 2 minutes. Being surrounded by silence, it’s easier to listen to your thoughts and differentiate what it is that you are worried about and what is the true current situation.
Through jotting down our thoughts in the morning, we can easily set the tone for the day. Are there any unfinished tasks from yesterday? Or is there something that’s bothering you? Or maybe there’s something that you don’t want to forget. Write it down!
By simply writing these things, we can easily organize our thoughts and create a plan of action to turn these cluttered messes in our heads to a to-do list that we can tick off at the end of the day.
You’ve probably read this countless times, but exercising can have a big impact physically and mentally. You don’t need to work out in the gym for hours or run for miles. By keeping your body moving, you get the feeling of accomplishment after you’ve reached your goals. You might have also heard the term “serotonin”. This is the so-called “happy chemical” in the body which is released through exercising and other physical activities. So, more activities, more happiness, less distress!
After working on your worrying mind and calming and slowing your thoughts, you can now tackle the problem with a clear mind.
Accept the Uncertainties
Let’s say, you’ve planned your party for months. You jotted down everything that could go wrong and are prepared with solutions. But on the day of the event, something happened that’s beyond your control. Should you just blame yourself? No, you immediately think of a solution and keep moving forward. If we learn to accept that life will surprise us in any way, we can adopt a wider perspective, develop our logical and creative thinking and just go easy on ourselves.
Distinguish Solvable from Unsolvable Worries
There is a difference when we worry about things that might happen tomorrow, things that might happen five years from today, and things that might not happen at all. The solvable worries are those that we can lay down and prepare for with corresponding plans and solutions right away. Those solvable worries can be productive. But other worries, generalizations such as, “What if I lose all my money?”, “What if I die before I turned 40?”, “What if the story of Noah’s Ark and the flood happens?” are the unsolvable worries that make us unproductive because we waste so much time worrying about things we cannot do anything about.
If your worries are solvable, don’t focus on finding the perfect solution. Focus on how are you going to make a change and keep going. But if your worries are unsolvable, ask yourself what is the likelihood that this might happen soon? If your answer is very low to none, then stop thinking about it because if this will not matter in a few weeks, months, or even years, then why are you dwelling on it so much?
Create a Solution-Focused Strategy
As worrying stems from our interpretation of the situation and dwelling on how to achieve the desired outcome, we can resolve this by developing an attainable vision of the future and then explore how are we going to act on it.
To fully understand this solution-focused strategy, ask yourself these questions:
- What is it that I want to happen? Through having a realistic vision of the future, you get to plan a list of steps that will overcome your worries.
- Are there any concrete steps that I can do to make this happen? Now that you’ve set a realistic vision, think about what are the things that you can do based on the resources that you currently have.
- How long will it take to finish the steps? As you remind yourself that you are still in the process of solving your problem, you’ll reduce worrying because you are aware that you are already in the process of taking care of it
The bottom line
“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate trouble but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly”
We all do stupid things. We all worry as well. Even though they say that today is made up of what we did yesterday and what we’ll do tomorrow, just remember to be kind to yourself and don’t wait until worrying steals you from the real beauty of life–the present.