I can't stop worrying!!! What can I do about it??
Lots of people are telling us they’re worrying about things they’ve no control over, and asking us, ‘What do I do about it?!’ Worrying is something we all do. In fact, you could say we are wired to worry. Our brains are designed to look out for problems and to solve them, to help keep us safe and to keep us alive. When things are uncertain or unknown (like when waiting for health results, doing something new like starting a new job, or dealing with a global pandemic) our brains can go into overdrive trying to ‘solve’ the unsolvable problem. Our brains can focus on the worry and go over and over it, keeping us from sleeping, concentrating and generally interfering with our lives. Ironically, the more we try to gain control over things we can’t control, the worse we feel. So what can we do about this?
The first thing is to recognise what’s happening! Be compassionate to yourself and understand that your brain is just trying to be helpful, but realise that worrying is not actually doing you any favours right now. Next, notice how you talk to yourself, are you harsh or gentle? Which do you think might be most helpful?! It can be quite a surprise to realise how often we speak harshly to ourselves, but just think of the cumulative negative impact of that. Try speaking to yourself how you might speak to a friend. Try to figure out if there are aspects which are within your control. So with regards to COVID we can follow regulations and guidelines by washing our hands, wearing a face mask and by keeping socially distanced. If the worry is regarding a new job, we can plan our route to work in advance and think about some of the things we might need to consider for our first day. Lastly, gently guide your brain in a different direction. Actively choose to ‘do something different’ instead of getting caught up in worrying. This is challenging at first, but with practice we can become really good at it and it can be really helpful.
But what can we do that’s ‘different’?
We can 'Drop Anchor' ⚓️
Dropping anchor is an accessible strategy that can help ‘anchor’ or ground us when we feel overwhelmed with thoughts, sensations and memories. It can be helpful to remember the word ‘ACE” which can remind us what to do:
A= Acknowledge and name your thoughts and sensations. For example ‘I notice I have a feeling of anxiety’ ‘I notice that I am feeling sad’ etc. Naming what you feel can often contain it and make things feel less overwhelming.
C= Come back and Connect with your body. For example, take a slow deep breath, push your feet into the floor and notice what that feels like, notice your back pressing against your chair, have a stretch, push your hands together.
E= Engage with and Explore your surroundings. This really just means that when you realise you are caught up in worries, you deliberately bring your attention back to the here and now. It is simply about tuning in to your surroundings. For example, ‘I’m on my sofa, my feet are warm, my slippers are fluffy'. Using all your senses can be helpful, so right now, whilst reading this blog, what things can you see around you? What can you hear? Can you smell anything? Can you taste anything? Are you touching anything – if so, what does it feel like?
You might like to try this Dropping Anchor technique out and notice what happens. It can be a really grounding exercise, helping us to stay in the present moment.
Paying attention in this way is not easy to begin with but it’s like using a muscle, it gets better with practice. When you first start trying, you might notice that your mind wanders off and that random thoughts pop into your head. This is completely normal! Just notice that it’s happened and then, speaking to yourself gently and kindly, bring your attention back again to the here and now. Taking the time to do this can really help to get you ‘out of your head’. We can learn to recognise that our thoughts are ‘just thoughts’, not facts. If I think ‘I’ve won the lottery’, it doesn’t make it a fact unfortunately! Worrying thoughts can feel very real but they’re actually no different, they’re not always facts.
Try noticing thoughts as just thoughts. So for example, if I think ‘People will think this blog is a load of rubbish!’ that might be likely to make me worry about it! I can take some of the power and sting away by noticing what I’m thinking, and then purposefully saying to myself, ‘I’m noticing I'm having the thought that people will think this blog is a load of rubbish’. By reminding myself that it’s a thought, and not necessarily a fact I can stop myself from getting caught up in worrying about it. It might be true that the blog is a load of rubbish, but even if it is, it’s not that helpful to me to get caught up in worrying about it.
We can try to carry on doing what’s important to us
Worrying about what we can’t control can really get in the way of living our lives. Instead of getting caught up in worries about what’s happened already, or what might happen, we can try to really focus on still doing things that give our lives meaning and value. So even when awful things have happened, or might (or even definitely will) happen, we can still carve out space to enrich our lives right now in the present. In this way, we can ensure that the process of worrying itself doesn’t derail our lives even more than the problem we’re worried about. For example, you might be worried about your own health or the health of someone you love. This worry could interfere so much with your life that it stops you from enjoying precious moments in the here and now. Focusing on these moments and continuing to do what we feel is important to us can help us feel more fulfilled and less caught up in the worries.
Putting it all together If you’re thinking for example, ‘I’m worried that I will get COVID’ try saying instead ‘I’m noticing I’m having the thought that I’m worried that I will get COVID’. You could acknowledge that this is making you feel anxious or scared, then connect back with your body by taking a deep breath and tune mindfully in to your surroundings. Look at what you can see, what you can hear, touch, taste and smell instead of focusing on the thought and the worry. You could then notice the impact this has for you – notice how you feel when you try to ‘drop anchor’, compared to how you might have felt if you’d got caught up in worrying about your thoughts. Often people notice that they become a lot calmer and therefore more able to fully engage with the present.
All of these techniques above take practice, like any new skill. If you can, it’s good to try them out on less difficult worries first. You wouldn’t want to have to learn how to swim for the first time when you’d fallen in to a river. Likewise, it’s good to build up these psychological skills gradually so they’re easier to use them when you need them most.
You can also have a look at our previous blog about learning how to live with and move on from COVID which links to many of the above points. Good luck trying some of these things out, we hope you find them helpful!
Jo, Jan and Catherine @The Wellbeing Rooms