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How to manage your worrying thoughts

07.04.2020

#WORRY #ANXIETY #LEARNING

People experience differently the uncertainties of the current complex crisis. Some, who are chronically worrying can observe a heightened state of anxiety or even experience moments of panic. Others, who do not worry usually, might start experience worry more often, or a sense of emotional instability with increased frustration and irritability.

The explanation is that most of us are used to have some certainty and stability in our lives, we can exercise a sense of control over what is happening around us. This is no longer available these days, or at least not as we used to have it.

This limitation in meeting our basic emotional needs lead for many to worrying or anxiety thoughts, and it is good so, partly. When we listen to our worries, we start paying more attention to what we can do to feel safer. It leads to actively evaluate the situation that puts us in danger and to find possible solutions, may it be about work, personal life, finances or health issues. For example, if you worry about meeting a deadline for your work, finding an appropriate solution like prioritization or strengthening your focusing skills can be very helpful.

What happens, when there is not much or nothing we can do about a situation? Does it make sense to worry beyond our capability of acting?

This is a good time to start differentiating between worries as junk thoughts and worries as reasonable, signal-to-act thoughts

When worries start gaining control over our mind without leading anywhere when they are repetitive and unnecessary, we start paying an emotional price for it: we become absorbed by our thoughts, we start losing the ability to focus in the present moment, we start fearing for our future. For many, this starts then to affect the body functioning as they engage in eating more, drinking alcohol, smoking or start having sleep difficulties. And the worst is that the more we worry, the more anxious we become. The more anxious we are, the more chances to experience panic we have.

When someone comes to my praxis complaining about feeling anxious, we first need to clarify, if what he/she experiences is anxiety, panic or both. Often there is a fine line between them as many bodily symptoms are similar: sweaty palms, rapid heartbeats, palpitations, headaches, muscles tense, stomach problems, dry mouth, hyperventilation.

People suffering from anxiety usually worry about the kind of interactions they have with others, or about personal well-being and safety. They ask themselves the so-called "What if " questions: "What if I fail the project?, What if I'll get sick?, What if I'll be fired?, What if he/she doesn't like me?" Anxiety makes people feel unable to deal with those situations they fear and as consequence, people will respond by avoiding or postponing them: avoid finishing a project, or going out to meet someone, or being late for work. In the worst situations, it leads to a paralysis of action that only perpetuates the situation.

If you feel that your anxiety level is affecting your well-being here is, step by step what you can do to start managing your anxiety feelings:

1. Notice and accept your feelings of anxiety or worry is the first step

Some people don't even notice their worrying thoughts until they are already on high intensity, others tend to push them back or avoid, which certainly doesn't work in the long term.

Use mindfulness techniques to pay attention to the first signals of anxiety, either in your body or in your thoughts. By noticing the first signals you can avoid getting your mind caught up in worry. This is a time to start stepping back and become an observer - instead of dwelling into your thoughts.

2. Treat yourself well, by adding the self-compassion dimension

Using a calm, friendly, supporting voice to talk to yourself in a way that is calming you down- the same way a friend would do- is more helpful than being angry for having those thoughts again. It is enough that anxiety feels unpleasant, why adding more to it? Unfortunately, many people who are chronically worrying are copying the same response, tone of voice, face mimic that their anxious caregiver had as they were kids, without even realising. It's time for a change!

3. Emotional self-distancing

For those open to try new things, why not trying a helpful technique developed by Ethan Kross, called emotional self-distancing according to which, by talking to yourself (silently) using your name or another non-first-person pronoun to refer to the self, you manage to create a distance between you and your feelings, thus enhancing your ability to control your thoughts, feelings and actions when you are under stress.

4. When you manage to distance yourself from your thoughts, ask how helpful they are to you at that moment?

In other words, do a reality check and see what's the proof that the things you are worrying about will happen? If you want, you can "make an appointment" to worry a bit later, when you have time to chat with you and see where are these thoughts coming from?

5. When you have time to deal with your thoughts, start organizing your worries into workable or junk

The workable are those worries that act as a signal and need problem-solving skills to resolve them, followed by actions. They are anchored in reality, for example, if you worry about losing your job it's based on the reality that your company is facing difficulties, then this is a real worry and requires specific actions from you.

Junk worries are those that are about situations that are not under your control or influence and thus, they require no actions.

6. Start making an action plan to solve your workable worries and let go of the junk ones

This step may require to have a more objective perspective, one that you can get by talking to someone else or getting the professional help of an expert like a coach, mentor or a therapist. From my experience, this is the most difficult phase as being conscious about your worries and taking actions are two different things. This is the anxiety's job: to trick you that you cannot handle things because once you start handling, you'll win more control in your life.

7. Whatever your action plan, keep on moving.

Try more solutions, take small steps ahead, check, review and come back with another plan to solve your problem. While you’ll advance in your planned actions, your junk worries will still be, but in time, they'll come less intense and less frequent.

In parallel with these cognitive techniques, learn special breathing exercises and practice mindfulness to switch your attention from your thoughts towards your breathing or towards the outside surroundings. Use all your senses to explore nature, people, the urban landscape. You'll be surprised how many things you go by and don't notice.


Generally, I always promote healthy lifestyle habits like healthy eating, enough sleep and relaxation, sufficient aerobic exercise, enjoying hobbies or personal growth activities. By practising such positive habits you create strength anchors in times of elevated stress. I know from my personal experience that mental well-being has to be complemented by body well-being.

Please feel free to share any feedback or comment

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