Let’s talk about worry. This is ruminating, your brain producing anxious thoughts and telling you worst-case scenarios and harassing you with what-ifs.
The question is – How do I stop worrying? How do I make my brain stop telling me every terrible possible thing that could happen? Today, we’re going to talk about worrying, how to stop worrying and how to prevent yourself from being a worrywart.
I want to start with a story:
Once upon a time there was a little girl and she worried about the birds, she worried about the trees and she worried about her family. One day she was on a walk down a long road with Snapdragon flowers, trees and birds everywhere. She was with her grandmother and the little girl pointed to the branches as they were walking and she said,
“Grandma, do you see that red bird up there in the tree?”
Nodding, her grandmother smiled and said, “Yes, I believe that’s the spring Robin”
The little girl bit her lip, a tell-tale sign that she was worrying and she said, “But grandma, what if the robin doesn’t find enough food and dies?”
Grandma walked a few steps further without commenting and then she stopped by a white stone bench and sat down beckoning to the little girl to sit beside her as grandmother said, “Do you see the leaves in the trees?” The little girl nodded. “How many leaves would you say there are?” Asked grandma.
“Over a thousand!” Exclaimed the little girl.
Grandmother nodded, “Once there was a study done by scientists and they discovered that 90% of everything people worry about never happens, 90%, so that means that if each of these leaves worried about not getting enough sunlight and water, then 90% of their worries would be for naught and they would get all of the sunlight and water that they needed.”
The little girl contemplated for a moment and then she looked up at her beloved grandmother with a twinkle in her eye, “Well, you see grandmother, that proves that worrying works.”
We all know that worrying isn’t the solution to the problem. Human nature has worrying as part of our experience but the question is – Is my worry serving me or is my worry stealing my life? If you feel like worrying is ruining your life, if you feel like worrying is hijacking your happiness, this is a message for you!
We’ll start with the ACT method to identify why we worry and what to do about it. The ACT method is a methodology that I’ve been developing for the past 10 years to create solutions to where you feel stuck. When you learn the ACT method, you will have answers to all of the quanders that come up, why am I anxious, why am I depressed, why do I worry and what do I do about it?
Acknowledging Your Worries
The first part of the ACT Method is Acknowledgement. Worrying is a part of you that is trying to help by giving you data to protect yourself. Worrying has gotten you through life.
There was a study done in developmental psychology where they would put a baby on a surface with glass extending out and they examined at what age it was that the baby would no longer crawl onto the glass. They speculated that at the age babies no longer crawled over the glass, they had developed depth perception and awareness. We evolve and develop to protect us. What can happen is worry decides to take center stage instead of whispering little helpful supports like “hey baby don’t crawl onto that glass that looks like it’s a big cliff.” Worry starts to hijack your happiness.
Instead of worrying being a little bit of data, it becomes something that wastes your energy. Why are we doing it?
First we have to establish that worrying is very natural, it has kept you alive. We need to acknowledge the role that worrying has. We have to acknowledge we can’t deal with a problem that we aren’t even willing to acknowledge we have. If we ignore our worry or try to suppress our worry, it’s just going to get louder and louder because it has a job to do and it’s been committed to doing that job since you were very young. When you have worry, I want you to directly acknowledge you’re worried because what you deny will amplify. I want you to say to your worried part:
“Worry, I see you. I see you worry. I acknowledge you. Instead of trying to change you or silence you, I’m going to respectfully listen to you. What do you need me to know?”
The way that you deal with worry is going to impact the way that worry lives with you.
Cast of Characters
We are going to examine the cast of characters that are around your worry. Here are a few examples of a cast of character around worry:
- anything that can make you worry
- worried about your kids going back to school
- worried about your health or your partner’s health
- worried about your aging loved ones
- worried about the pandemic or politics
- worried about scorpions on the trails here in Arizona
- it can be anything
Those are examples of your cast of characters. The first step is acknowledging the worry, speaking to your worry, face your worry head on and then you are going to acknowledge the cast of characters. Let me tell you an example from my life:
My worry, my biggest anxiety from my story was sleep. The more anxious I got the more amplified my nervous system was and I didn’t sleep. If you’ve ever had insomnia for a long time I have so much compassion and empathy for you. It was the worst thing I went through in my life. I would go days without sleeping, riddled with panic and what I wanted to do is just suppress it, suppress it, suppress it. What supplements can you give me? What medications do I need to do? What acupressure points do you want me to do? Are there benzos? What can I take, anything to make this anxiety better and to sleep. But, what I wish I would have known then is that had I acknowledged what my anxiety was trying to tell me, had I looked at the cast of characters surrounding my anxiety, it would have changed my life so much sooner. Instead, I was stuck in this rabbit hole, the worrying got worse thinking, “What if I don’t sleep tonight? What if I don’t sleep tomorrow night?” and then I didn’t and it got worse.
What I didn’t do was accept the fact that I may not sleep tonight, I may stay anxious for a while. Do you feel like you’re stuck in a record groove and there’s all these experts telling you,
“Just be positive!”
“Just think your way out of it.”
“Don’t worry, be happy!”
I’m telling you the opposite. I’m telling you to acknowledge it and accept it. Once we accept it then we have time, opportunity and space for transformation.
The last part of the ACT Method, transformation. This is the time to focus on what you do have power over.
For example: if you have aging parents, you can’t stop them from aging but you can spend as much quality time with them as possible, make meaningful memories. Whatever you can do to create meaning, that’s what you need to do. Where you have the control, have the courage to make the change. Otherwise your brain is just going to focus on what you can’t change.
Sometimes we just don’t have the bandwidth to do all of this work. There is a time and a place for worry. When worry comes up, we know that if you deny it will amplify. We know that whatever you suppress is going to further express. I want you to be the one who is taking center stage, who’s controlling your life instead of your life controlling you. Sometimes that means that you can’t do the work right then and there. Using the Box Technique is a great strategy if there isn’t time to address the worry head-on. This techniques comes from EMDR therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). Here’s how it works.
The Box Technique:
- When the worry comes up and there is no bandwidth to take care of it say, “I hear you. I acknowledge you. I thank you for sharing, worry, and right now I’m going to need to put you into this protective box and I promise we’ll do the work later.”
- You close your eyes and imagine that there’s a protective box and you breathe into the worry, breathe into the thoughts and then you imagine breathing them out and putting them into protective box.
- Take 30 seconds to a minute to do that.
Another strategy that you can use is thought relocation.
Thought relocation is a mindfulness exercise. Let me walk through the steps for thought relocation:
- The first step is to notice where the thoughts are coming from in your brain. For me, a thought’s energy can feel like it is coming from my forehead.
- Once we locate where the thought is coming from, we are going to practice relocating it. You may need to close eyes to find those thoughts. To relocate, I want you to imagine that you pull those thoughts out like an orb or a ball and then you push them away.
- Start by pushing the thought forward, then move it to the right side, push it to the left.
- Finally, push the thought to the back of the mind for storage so you have the bandwidth to move on to other tasks at hand.
Both of these exercises, the protective box technique and thought relocation, take practice. With enough practice, this can actually change your neuroscience. We are rewiring the brain to control worry when it comes back next time.
If you want to learn EVEN MORE strategies for dealing with worry and anxiety, check out the Anxiety Freedom 1-Week Challenge. It’s totally free, my gift to you. I’ve compiled my favorite strategies from the past 10 years as a naturopathic doctor and counselor to help you tackle anxiety. The 7 videos and workbook are waiting for you now! Start the challenge, and your journey towards anxiety freedom.
Dr. Nicole Cain is an advocate for empowering people around the world to help themselves via her educational video e-courses, books, and exclusive free Facebook group. You can receive the tools you need to find the root cause of your symptoms and feel healthy again.