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Small steps to less worry

Updated: Sep 16, 2019

By Jackie Bland

It’s a horrible feeling, worry.

A recurring fear, anxiety or concern can obsess your mind and you have this constant feeling of discomfort, of being unable to settle – and of course this unsettled feeling makes you feel even more anxious and often unwell.

And we all know that worries breed, one leads to another until just about everything

seems negative and overwhelming, especially when you wake in the middle of the night!

But what can you do about it? After all a worry is a worry and you can’t ‘get it off your mind’...

In fact we have more control than we think we have, and it is often the feeling of being out of control, rather than the actual event/person/issue that is worrying us, that makes us feel really anxious.

And so the first thing you can do is to ask yourself, ‘What would give me just a bit more control over this’? Rather than try to solve the whole problem all at once (which can seem impossible and lead to more worries), just identify one action that you can take to gain a bit more control.

Your brain likes to know what’s going on, what’s expected of it, and so taking even a tiny bit of control can make you feel a whole lot better, and this can make you more motivated to take other small steps that bring more things under control.

For example I had a client who was worried about his elderly wife’s health. She was forgetful and erratic and he wasn’t sure she should still be driving. He was worried about the future and what would happen if they had no car as he couldn’t drive himself.

He feared he would not be able to look after her if she became too elderly and forgetful and he was worried about his own quality of life. So he lay awake at night and worried, and then during the day, sleep deprived and feeling out of control, he fretted so much that he’d started having panic attacks.

Now his issues were of course real, but it wasn’t the issues themselves (half of which were just projections into the future), it was his feelings about the situation and his lack of control that was precipitating the panic attacks and insomnia. A simple decision to call his wife’s GP and discuss the situation was all it took to calm his anxiety. The feeling that he had acted, was back in control, was what he needed.

Often, when we are very anxious we cannot see (or ignore) the simple step that is right in front of us; we think we need an absolute and immediate solution to every single problem, when what we really need is just to take back a little bit of control.

But what about when worry itself is the problem? There isn’t really much wrong with you/your life but you find yourself getting ‘stuck’ on negative thoughts and making up or imagining things that may go wrong.

Here you can try techniques which ‘crowd out’ the negative thoughts and worries, with more positive thoughts. If you try to simply suppress or push away worries they often break through your barriers, especially when you feel low or tired or hungry.

It sounds too simple to work, but its amazing how powerful positive, pleasurable thoughts can be in taking the power out of your worries.

To do this, think of something that will always make you feel good, something guaranteed to give you a good feeling whenever you think about it.

It could be a memory or a special person. It could be a scene you can bring to mind of a place on holiday, or even somewhere that would be your dream destination. It could be the feeling of soaking in a hot bath, or your kitten chasing something in the garden, or your children when they were babies.

Examples my own clients have chosen include lying in a hammock looking up at palm trees on a hot, sunny tropical beach, or the faces of their pets, or a breath-taking scene across the sea in Tenerife at sunset, or their wedding day. For someone else it was the feeling they had when they got their fantastic A-level results.

The point is that you know whenever you think about this image it will trigger good feelings in your brain.

It’s important to identify this thought and dwell on it for a while so that you have it ready to mind when you find a worry or negative thinking become a problem for you. And then it really is as simple as bringing that positive thought/image to mind when you find yourself caught in that circle of worry.

Put as much colour and meaning into your positive image as you can. If it’s paddling in warm tropical waters on a deserted beach, really ‘feel’ that water around your feet, enjoy the soft sand and imagine the clarity of that blue sky. Hear the sound of the waves breaking gently on the shore and the warm breeze brushing against your skin...

Do this every time your worry surfaces, just calmly bring in your positive thought/image, over and over again. Even at the first sign that a ‘worry-fest’ is about to start, interrupt it gently with your positive thought.

This works on lots of levels. You are of course calmly distracting yourself from your negative thought. You are also bringing in an image which stimulates feelings of pleasure and greater relaxation, which starts to calm your anxiety responses.

By thinking less about your negative stuff you are also sending a message to your brain that it is now less important to you (your brain assigns importance to things by how much/often you concentrate on them). You are also starting to change the way you think about those negative things/concerns/fears, by forming a strong association between them and something that makes you feel good.

With practice people often find that this response becomes automatic. Each time they come even nearer to thinking about the thing they are worried about or the place or thing that causes them anxiety, their positive image comes into their mind without even having to consciously think about it.

When this starts to happen you have literally rewired your brain.

Have a worry free day!

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