Worrying is something that everyone does. We worry about our kids, our spouses, our health, our finances, what others think about us and pretty much anything else that is important to us. If we care about it, we tend to worry about it.
While worrying is a natural thing, there can be instances in which our worrying isn’t helpful. Let’s look at some common mistakes people make trying to stop worrying.
Perhaps the most common mistake people make in trying to stop worrying is when we try to relax. Have you ever been worked up about something and been told by your spouse or a friend to “just relax”? It almost never works. This is similar to being told to “calm down.”
There’s a meme that says, “Never in the history of calming down has anyone ever calmed down by being told to calm down.” Usually, telling someone to calm down just causes them to get more upset.
In the same vein, trying to relax in the middle of intense worrying usually is paradoxical. In fact, many times our attempts to relax end up causing us even more frustration, since we continue to worry.
Another mistake that people make in trying to stop their worries is by trying to focus on something else. Thought suppression usually can work for a little bit, depending on how strongly you are able to focus your mind. No one, however, is able to constantly focus their thoughts. So at some point your mind will wander back to your worries. In some cases, thought suppression can actually increase the worry thoughts because the attempts to get yourself to stop thinking about something actually keeps it on your mind.
Similar to thought suppression, distraction is another temporary balm for our worries without longer term results. We often try to distract ourselves from our worry thoughts by watching TV, looking at our phones, spending time with friends, working, exercising or any of the other methods of distraction. But at some point you can no longer distract yourself, and the worry thoughts will return. Some people are able to run themselves ragged by doing things all day, but even if you do this, there’s a high likelihood that your worry thoughts will return when you try to go to sleep.
Some people try to reduce their worry thoughts by attempting to live the most healthy, stress-free life possible. They think that if they can control their bodies through exercise and diet — and the bodies of those they care about! — as well as practicing balance in their work lives and getting a proper amount of sleep, they can find the magic lifestyle formula that limits their worries. But as anyone who has tried this method has found out, you can never do enough to fully control your life.
No matter how much yoga or mindfulness you practice, there will always be more worries that can invade your life. No matter how healthy you are, you can’t keep yourself alive forever, and your body will eventually begin to fail you at some point.
If none of these things is a solution for our worrying, what can we do about our worry thoughts?
First, we can work on accepting our worry thoughts. Rather than working hard to make ourselves stop worrying, which doesn’t work and usually only produces annoyance, begin working on accepting your worry when you begin to feel it rather than avoiding it.
Next, begin to work on not answering the questions that your worry brings up. Instead of going down the rabbit hole of the “what if” scenarios that you worry about, work on approaching your worry thoughts the same way that you would any other random thoughts that comes across your mind. Don’t get stuck on them, but instead allow them to pass through your mind without analyzing it for meaning.
Finally, if you struggle to just accept your worry, then view it as a game. When you notice that you’ve started worrying, make a point to create the most outlandish disaster scenario possible. In doing these things, you can begin to take back control of your worry thoughts.
• Mischa McCray is a licensed professional counselor and a licensed marriage and family therapist. Send questions or topics you’d like him to discuss to email@example.com.