If “How can I stop worrying” is a question you frequently ask yourself, chances are that the anxiety associated with the worrying is getting to you. An important distinction to make is that worry is a thought that leads to anxiety. For a comprehensive overview of how thoughts, ideas, images, and perceptions lead to emotions, read our Self-Help Toolkit on How To Change Negative Thinking.
It is important to understand that worry in and of itself is not necessarily bad. In fact, worry can be beneficial if it motivates us and sets us into motion to resolve an important problem. Worrying becomes a problem when it is excessive and difficult to control. If you frequently ask yourself, “What if this” and “What if that”, chances are that you are getting caught in what we call a ‘worry chain’. If you find that your worrying is affecting your ability to sleep, your concentration, it is making you feel irritated, tense, restless or startled easily, these physiological symptoms are a good indication that worrying is getting out of control for you. If this is the case, you should consult a mental health professional as you may have Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
How to Not Worry
“How do I stop worrying?” you may be asking yourself. Fortunately, the research garnered through Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) has helped psychologists to develop effective ways to stop worrying and to overcome anxiety.
First off, as previously mentioned worry is not all bad. Thus, the goal psychologists have in treating worrying is not to place people in a category of “Worrier” into the category of “Not a Worrier”. Rather, we see worry as a concept that exists on a scale from 1 to 10 instead. Depending on the worry, whether we get information, etc. we should move up and down on the scale. For example, if someone is not a big worrier, say they worry between 1-3 most of the time, and they received a phone call that a loved one was in the hospital, their degree of worrying might go up to a 10. But once they learned that their loved one was okay, they would be less worried and go down back to 1-3. However, someone who has difficulty and cannot stop worrying will likely still worry to a high degree and ask, “What if this” and “What if that”. For example, “What if they did not do all the required test” and “What if the doctors missed something” and so forth.
Steps on How To Stop Worrying
1. Take an inventory of how worrying is affecting your life to increase your motivation to change. Complete the following Cost-Benefit analysis worksheet of learning to Stop Worrying.
2. Become aware of your worries. Research has shown us that there are two types of worry. There are “Real” or Type I worries and “Hypothetical/Useless” or Type II worries. Here is how you can distinguish the two.
Real/Type I worries are worries we can do something about right now e.g. talk to someone, make an action plan or seek information. In contrast, Hypothetical/Useless or Type II worries are described as:
- A worry that is not very probable e.g. my plane will crash. Statistics show that you are more likely to be in a car crash than a plane crash.
- The worst case is not that bad e.g. worrying about your car breaking down.
- Things we cannot control.
- A real worry but that you cannot do anything about at the moment e.g. it is the weekend and you forgot to pay a bill and you have to wait until Monday to do so.
Become aware of your worries. Three times per day write down your worries, how much anxiety each caused you and whether it was a Real or Hypothetical/Useless worry. When you have identified a hypothetical worry, try to ‘let go’ of it: let it float off into your mind, try to shut a door on it. If you find that ‘letting go’ is a hard concept, then use visualization to help you out. Visualize an object going off in the distance. A great example that most people like is to imagine letting go of a balloon and watching it go off into the distance. This will help you focus less on the worry itself. You will likely feel anxious doing this as your mind will want to go back to the worry, however, the anxiety should start to go down as the object goes off in the distance and you tolerate the anxiety.
3. Learn to tolerate uncertainty. Research has shown that excessive worry is the result of difficulty tolerating uncertainty. Worrying is a way to try to have control over uncertainty. We have observed through studies that once someone can tolerate uncertainty more, they stop worrying excessively. As a result, they are less anxious and the physiological symptoms described at the beginning improve. To learn to tolerate uncertainty read the following Self-Help Toolkit we have developed: How To Tolerate Uncertainty and How To Not Worry.
We trust you will find these tips helpful in helping you to stop worrying. If they are not enough, do not hesitate to give us a call to book an appointment for more in-depth help. If you do use these suggestions, please ‘Like’ the Montreal Therapy & Psychological Wellness Centre on Facebook and help us fulfill our mission to promote the use of CBT in the Montreal area.