The Power of Thought

Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow

Everyone worries sometimes. This is perfectly normal, and in some circumstances, worrying can prompt you to take action and step out of your comfort zone. However, if you find yourself preoccupied and consumed by worry on a daily basis, it can affect your state of mind, your weight, your sleep, relationships, confidence, self-esteem, and it can really increase your anxiety.

It is important to consider the origins of your worry, and a great question to ask yourself is, “is it real in the world or is it just real to me?” Have you actually got lots of life challenges going on right now that the majority of people would worry about, or are you worrying about a situation that doesn’t warrant being upset and anxious over?

If you are over worrying the question is why? Worry and anxiety are both symptoms with a learned schema behind them. What created the reference that drives your behaviour? There are a number of common origins:

  • Copying a parent. If you have a parent who is an over-worrier, the likelihood is that you will be too. Ask yourself: “Did over-worrying enhance my parent’s life?” If not, why not? When you catch yourself worrying, remind yourself: “I am fine – this isn’t my worry, it’s my parent’s.”
  • Fear of criticism. For some people, worry stems from low self-esteem caused by past criticism, for example from a school bully, teacher, ex-boss or ex-partner. If this is the case, challenge your belief by asking yourself: “Do I still want to be listening to those people?”, “What skills did they have that gave them the right to judge me in the first place?” and “if they were kind people, they wouldn’t have judged me so I shouldn’t be listening to them.”
  • A turbulent past. If there was a time in your life when a series of things went wrong, you may have created an expectation that things will go wrong in the future, causing habitual worry. Look at the evidence and note how many things have actually gone right, for example passing an exam, making a best friend, having a loving family, buying a home, having children, winning tickets to a concert, getting a bargain on something or going on holiday. Keep a diary and document one great thing that happened in your day before bed every night. This will start to retrain your thought patterns and create new habits. There will probably be too many things in your life that have gone right to remember and only a handful of things that have gone wrong.
  • Having too much time on our hands. Our brain like to be occupied, and if you don’t give it something constructive or positive to keep it busy, it will invariably find something negative to focus on. This can be a worry, anxiety, pain or ailment that then grows because, like a muscle that you exercise, the more you exercise negative thoughts and behaviours, the stronger they get. Avoid cultivating your worries and negativity by maintaining a positive focus.

Here are some exercises to help you overcome worrying:

  • Find the origin. When you identify what is causing your worry, you need to challenge it.
  • Create a ‘worry period’. Decide on a specific time slot every day that will be your chance to worry. For example, you may decide you will allocate yourself 15 minutes starting at 3 o’clock. If you catch yourself worrying outside this time, don’t tell yourself not to worry: what you resist persists, and it will make you think about it even more. Instead, make a note to worry about it during your worry time. This helps to deal with the worry at the moment, and also often puts it into perspective if it doesn’t warrant your time when you come to reconsider it.
  • Make a list of your worries. This takes the worry out of your mind and puts it firmly on paper. It also offers you a third-party perspective by seeing it externally. Keep the list so that when you look back at it in weeks to come, you realise that a lot of things you were worrying about never actually happened. This will give you some great positive counter-evidence, which in turn will help you stop worrying in the future. Results of a study have found 85% of what people worried about never happened, and for the 15% that did happen, and 79% of cases, people discovered they could handle the problem better than they expected. 
  • Ask yourself, is this problem solvable? If it is, decide on a strategy to solve it, and stick to that strategy.
  • Consider your environment and the company you keep. The people around you can greatly affect how you feel. If you have a friend who is always anxious, they will make your worrying worse. We would suggest avoiding that person where possible, especially while you are suffering from over-worry.
  • If you would like to discuss a worry with somebody, only approach a trusted friend or family member who you know has a positive outlook on life and will give you constructive advice. 
  • Find a distraction or activity to fill your time positively. This could be voluntary work, a hobby you have always wanted to try, joining a local group or doing an online course – just make sure you are using your time well.
  • Give yourself 3 to 5 small daily tasks that will give you a sense of achievement when you complete them. This could be something as simple as clearing out a cupboard or calling a friend you haven’t spoken to in ages who always makes you feel good.
  • Imagine that you have a button in the centre of your palm. Think of your main worry and press the button. As you press it, breathe in to the count of three. As you count one, visualise the colour red, as you count two, see the colour blue, and as you count three see the colour green. Then exhale and completely let go of anything in your mind. The section of our brain that handles stress and worry has the common sense of an infant. You can’t stop an infant’s tantrum by applying logic; you need a distraction – similarly, this technique works incredibly well to distract you from your worry.
  • Consider if what you are worried about is a ‘what if’?’ – if there is no solution, you will be creating fear, anger and frustration. Pessimistic thoughts and attitudes can be challenged by directing yourself to look at a situation in a more positive and realistic way. Ask yourself, “what is the probability that what I am worried about will really happen?” If it is low, consider what other, better outcomes that could be. Also ask, “Is this thought helpful?” How could your worry help you, and conversely could it hurt you? 
  • Finally, think about what advice you would give to a friend who came to you with the same worry. Would you even see it as a problem? 

Work Out Your Worries

Your worries will be easier to manage when you categorise them. Use this FREE downloadable PDF to get you started.

Trauma Research UK's Recovery Programme

Trauma Research UK’s recovery programme is designed to help you break the anxiety-inducing habits you might have been carrying around for years, and to help you create new ways of thinking that we are confident will transform your life for the better. We will share with you the techniques and tools needed to change things around so you can start to live the life you deserve. This programme has been designed to be simple, effective and most importantly life-changing. Find out more…