There is no shortage of things to fret about these days.
Bills. Health. Life. Politics. COVID-19.
It’s all too easy for us to get mired in worry when we’re facing great uncertainty, said Allyn Richards, PhD, a psychologist with Spectrum Health. Our minds are just hardwired that way.
“But that can quickly become overwhelming and ineffective for people,” she said.
Here are five helpful tricks to yank yourself out of those worrisome ways.
1. Name it, tame it
Worry and anxiety can crush positive emotions and keep you from focusing on things that might improve your situation, Dr. Richards said.
If you find yourself endlessly plagued with negative thoughts, try writing it all down.
“Name it and tame it,” she said. “Write down specifically what you’re worried about. What are those fears? What are you worried about happening?”
Once you’ve compiled the list, take a moment to reflect on it. Rate each worry on a scale of 0 to 100—0 being least likely to happen, 100 being “this is absolutely going to happen,” Dr. Richards said.
“Sometimes when we’re in a heightened state of anxiety, our mind tends to catastrophize the worst-case scenario,” she said.
So how realistic are your worries?
“If we find these are improbable events, it allows you to focus your attention elsewhere,” she said.
Then ask: “Is there anything you can control in these situations?”
If you’re worked up about finances, as many are right now, compile a list of things you can control.
“Try to tease apart what’s controllable versus what’s not and have a plan for what is,” she said.
Be creative about your problems and solutions.
“If someone gets sick, how do we manage that individually or as a family?” she said. “You can go back and review (your list) and feel like you have some sense of control.”
2. Pencil it in
Schedule about 15 minutes each day to confront your anxieties by name. It’s best to tackle it in the afternoon, not first thing in the morning and not last thing before bed.
“When you notice worries coming up throughout the day, write it down and say, ‘OK, I’ll come back to that at my worry time,’” Dr. Richards said.
Limit the time you spend addressing your worries. And take time to relax. You’ll often find that whatever worried you that morning shrank in significance by late afternoon.
3. Accept uncertainty
Quite simply: Learn to accept uncertainty.
“This one is hard,” Dr. Richards said. “It’s hard to put into place.”
Focus on what you can control right now—routines and self-care—and let the rest fall as it may.
“Recognize that, inevitably, there are going to be things we just have no control over right now,” Dr. Richards said. “Acknowledge that. Remind yourself that even though you don’t like it, you can tolerate it and get through it.
“Trying to be 100% certain about what’s going to happen is going to lead to you endlessly seek information, scanning the news, which is ever-changing,” she said. “That can lead to greater anxiety and frustration, just spiraling.”
Limit your news consumption and make sure it comes from reputable sources. Remember that things like the COVID-19 virus are an event—they have a beginning and an end.
“Recognize this is impermanent,” Dr. Richards said.
4. Build resilience
See adversity as an opportunity for growth.
“Find meaning in the madness,” Dr. Richards said. “A big part of what we find with resilience is that, with people who are able to thrive in difficult events, it’s really a mindset.”
Ask yourself what you can learn from this experience.
“Maybe you find in your day-to-day life you haven’t taken a lot of time to be still,” Dr. Richards said. “Or maybe you recognize how you haven’t connected to family in a long time and reached out to make sure other people are OK.”
Take your realizations and apply them to your next move.
“Recognize that, ‘Hey, at the end of day I’m tougher than I thought,’” she said. “I’m able to make it through difficult events. There is something to be gained through that.”
5. Practice self-compassion
Choose to be kind and understanding toward yourself, rather than harsh and critical.
“Especially when you’re feeling painful emotions, painful experiences or feelings of failure,” Dr. Richards said.
Write down your criticism and judgments. Reflect on them.
“Think about what you would say to someone else if they were having these thoughts and feelings,” Dr. Richards said. “A lot times we’re much more compassionate to other people than we are to ourselves. Write out what you would say to a friend and then read it back to yourself.”
Recognize and accept that life doesn’t always go perfectly to plan.
“And that’s OK,” Dr. Richards said. “Give yourself grace in that moment.”