We all worry. We may be worried about the economy, an upcoming job interview or the uncertain impact of a pandemic. We wonder how we should act, why something has happened to us or what we could have done differently to impact events. Though worrying is human, it is a very unhealthy habit. Worrying can keep us up at night and can lead to high levels of anxiousness and depression. Thinking about something briefly can be useful and encourages action. Analyzing certain challenges and errors can be helpful to find solutions and improve oneself. However, worrying means that you cannot let go of thoughts or feelings. It is like running in circles getting no further, or treading water, actually reducing the chances of finding a good solution.
If worrying is not helpful and sometimes detrimental, why do we do it so often?
- We often think that worrying is constructive thinking because it makes us feel like we are working on our problems.
- Worrying temporarily protects us from more painful emotions. For example, if we get hurt, it is easier to focus anger on the cause of the pain than to dwell on the pain itself. We deflect our emotions to help us ignore the pain.
- By continuing to worry, we avoid the potentially difficult steps we may have to take, such as talking about the situation or changing our own behavior. Worrying is the easy way out — after all, you do not have to take action.
Sometimes, seemingly innocent worrying can lead to a worry disorder that can negatively impact our day-to-day lives and cause health problems. These following three signals may indicate a worry disorder.
- Your thoughts often keep you awake at night.
- Your worries do not lead to solutions.
- Those around you become irritated when you articulate what is bothering you because you often repeat yourself.
If you recognize yourself in these characteristics, it is time to do something constructive.
1. Set a “worry time”
Determine a time when to allow negative thoughts to occur and limit its duration. For example, reserve 15 minutes two times per day to contemplate what worries you. During that time, sit consciously to allow the thoughts to come up. When you find yourself worrying at other times, force yourself to save those thoughts for the specific time that you have blocked for it.
It is important to never worry at night. Put a notepad next to your bed to write down the source of your worry then try to let go. It helps to write down your worries during the day as well, since expressive writing helps prevent burnouts. In addition, making notes can help to list of all the positive things in your life — what is going well and what you are proud of, for example.
2. Focus on facts
Concentrate on concrete facts. Worry is recurring thoughts about things that have already happened or that could possibly happen. Focus on the present which is an effective way to stop worrying. Simply said, the past cannot be changed, and no one knows what the future will bring. Challenge your way of thinking by asking yourself the following questions:
- Has the source of your worry already occurred? Or, how great is the chance that it will actually happen?
- What is the worst that can happen?
- What is the best that can happen?
- What proof do I have for this worry?
- Are other explanations possible?
3. Probiotics to the rescue
Taking probiotics can help. Probiotics are living bacteria that can help to improve digestion and strengthen the immune system. Research has shown that after four weeks of actively consuming probiotics can reduce symptoms of worrying and depression. Among foods that contain probiotics are yogurt and yogurt drinks, miso, cottage cheese, pickles, and feta cheese. Overall healthy eating and drinking will boost your mood.
4. Distract Yourself
Exercise, get a massage, listen to music, or contact good friends and/or family. Going outside can directly impact thought processes. Sharing thoughts with another can help to put negative thoughts into a new light.
Bottom line — You likely have many blessings for which to be thankful. Focus there. Worrying either about the past or the future is simply useless and can cause (mental) health issues. To stop worrying starts with awareness. Become aware of what you think, when and how you think about it, and try to replace negativity with positive thoughts.