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What To Do When You Worry Too Much & People Constantly Tell You To Stop

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If you’re a worrier, chances are the most important people in your life have suggested, pleaded or even demanded that you stop worrying. As much as they mean to be helpful, they really don’t understand what to do when you worry too much. And, the truth is most of us who are prone to worry don’t instinctively know what to do about it either.

It’s common to believe that the way to curb distressing angst is simply to catch anxious thoughts when they appear and then choose to just stop thinking them. Worriers and non-worriers alike use phrases like…

You’ll get over it.

Just forget about it.

Calm down.

Go with the flow.

Just chill out.

You’re making yourself sick.

Let it go.

Relax.

Stop worrying about it.

Don’t worry.

It will be OK.

…to attempt to stop worry.

But using phrases like these don’t actually help.

That’s because anxious fretting isn’t just about an unwanted thought. It’s also a physiological response.

When we worry, our bodies are often involved in addition to our minds. We may experience increased blood pressure, “butterflies” in the stomach, a lump in the throat, sweaty palms, trembling, dizziness, or a rapid heartbeat.

This experience is something that each of us might define a little differently, and yet something we know when we feel it. In practice, I think of anxious fretting as the experience that arises from conflict about future unavoidable pain as well as the perceived threat to something or someone we care about.

It is also that sense that something isn’t quite right, that we’ve neglected something important, and even sometimes a sense of dread. We conjure up a scary image in our mind; we think a threatening thought; we recall a painful situation.

With all this brain activity, our bodies respond. We’re not just dealing with our thoughts we’re also dealing with the automatic responses of our bodies.

It’s this simple fact that make all the well-meaning sentiments listed above virtually useless if you’re someone who struggles with this experience.

Rather than attempting to stop worry, it is always more effective to work with it once it is engaged.  One of the best ways to do this is to change our thinking about this experience in general.

Worry isn’t our enemy. It has a powerful purpose in helping us achieve our goals. It does this by making sure we stay focused on the things that matter, helping us prioritize, and reminding us when we are off track.

For worry to do its job, we do need to keep it at manageable and actionable levels.

The five steps below can help you work with your experience, and take back control.

1. Recognize your worry.

Understanding when and how your worry is happening is the first step to being able to harness it for productive action.

2. Identify what your feelings are really about. 

Being able to hear what your feelings are really signaling takes practice and sometimes support from a therapist. Yet, once you can reliably interpret the message your worry is giving you, you’ll immediately feel less at its mercy, and have a clearer sense of what’s most important to you.

3. Sort through your worry.

Identifying what you want, and what to do to get there, comes next. You are ready to sort through the messages your feelings are signaling and identify the actions that can solve it.

4. Determine what action you’ll take.

This step varies tremendously by individual. While determining worry’s message is different for everyone, so too is identifying smart action. The trick is to focus on solutions that will best solve the drivers of your worry.

This is where listening to and thinking about your worry really matters. Inaccurate perceptions will spin ineffective action, that in turn, tend to generate more worry and angst. Whereas conceiving effective solutions tends to drive worry down.

5. Take action.

Worry offers the energy you need to forge solutions, and it stubbornly won’t give up until you engage it. Once you’ve identified its message and the action steps you can take, you are moving into action.

Don’t be surprised if you start to notice a resurgence of avoidance, confusion, or resistance. It’s the moment of truth, and the physical sensations of worry are your body readying itself for action, not telling you to stop.

Worry’s impact on us boils down to how we think about it, and what we do with it.
Hack Your Anxiety: How to Make Anxiety Work for You in Life, Love and All That You Do

Granted this is a high-level list of what to do when you worry too much. But when you follow it and focus on using your experience to your benefit instead of listening to all the well-meaning people who keep telling you to stop worrying, you’ll discover your strength, courage and capability to create a truly meaningful life.

 

For more help managing anxiety, check out my book, Hack Your Anxiety, full of science-based actionable strategies for taking control including a 30-page ToolKit, register for my free mini-ecourse by signing up for book bonuses here, or check-out my anxiety and relationships blogs.  

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Alicia H. Clark, PsyD

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