How To Worry Effectively

We all worry. Finding easy productive ways to manage your worry will do wonders for your physical and mental health.

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When I was a girl I used to worry a lot. About my grades at school. About whether I’d make the cheerleading squad. About whether Rj would still want to be my boyfriend. About how popular I was. About whether I’d go to a good college.

Things would swim around and around in my head. Actions that were in my control, actions that were outside of my control, events that had already happened (and how I dealt with them) and events that had yet to happen.

Lots of worrying makes Gayle a very anxious person!

Not to mention the impact that worrying had on my physical and mental health. Waking up in the middle of the night ruminating on could haves, should haves, will dos, what will happens impacted my sleep. Worrying about how I showed up at school would impact what I ate or how comfortable I felt in my own skin.

One day during an extreme case of the worries, my Mom sat me down. After talking a bit about what I was worrying about she said some magic Mom words that would stick with me forever.

“As Scarlett O’Hara once said”, she started (because she knew I loved the movie Gone With The Wind, so this got my attention), “I’ll think about that tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day.”

And just like that I was able to put away a lot of stress, free up my mind, and yet still know that I would address the situation. Just not right then.

While I am writing this blog during our CoVD-19 pandemic, where stress and worry are at their peaks for all of us, worry (and the stress that worrying creates) is most likely an unwelcome friend for most of us during our ‘normal’ lives.

I have recently found myself struggling again with the overwhelm of concerned thoughts spinning through my head every day. Is my family safe? Are we safe? Will we ever get back to ‘normal’? What will happen to my business? To Rj’s business? What will happen to all the people who are dealing with loss of job/friends/family?

Those are just my worry highlights reel. Every day there seems to be something new to add to the list. For the work that I am doing, am I doing everything I can to help people right now? Am I doing all that I can for my health? For my family who I can’t visit right now?

I’m sure you have the running list of your own swimming around your head every day. And every night. Like me, I suspect that if you wake up during the middle of the night, you have troubles getting these thoughts out of your head.

Excessive worrying can have negative impacts to your health. From acquiring bad habits to deal with the stress (excessive/unhealthy eating, smoking, drinking) to creating physical health issues (nausea, nervous energy, headaches, inability to concentrate) to more serious mental issues rooted in anxiety, excessive worrying is not our healthy friend. 

Not to mention, we have so much going on in our lives every day why add to that list all the things you are worrying about?

So how can we stop worrying?

First, I will tell you that we may never stop worrying – so don’t set yourself up for the stress related to thinking that you can rid yourself of worry once and for all.

Healthy management of stress is more realistic at this juncture. Here are a few of my tested techniques you may want to consider to help reduce your worry time every day/night.

Be like Scarlet O’Hara and worry about things tomorrow.

My Scarlet O’Hara trick is my most favorite night time worry technique. And I use this technique every night. Sometimes as I attempt to fall asleep and/or other times if I wake up at 2am in a panic and can’t get back to sleep.

As I close my book, put my favorite lavender cream on my feet and get myself comfortable, I tell myself that ‘my job now is to just go to sleep’. By telling myself this consistently, I’m creating a belief in my brain that now is the time of my day where my ‘work’ is to sleep. Additionally, by incorporating this action into my bedtime routine, my mind/body is conditioned to know that sleep is now the priority. Then, as my head hits the pillow, if there are any last minute stray worries, I simply tell myself that I will worry about them tomorrow.

Now it’s 2am and I’ve just woken up. My head is spinning again. I take a deep breath, reset myself into a comfortable position, remind myself that there is nothing I can do about my worries right now, and promise myself that I will worry about them tomorrow.

I know – sounds so easy, how can it possibly be impactful? Can one really shut their mind down by just it to stop?

Yup. Like any habit, if you practice consistently for a long enough period of time, you are able to rewire your brain. I’ve talked about this concept before, so if you need a refresher you may want to reread this blog.

You may also want a refresher on my best recommendations for getting a good night sleep.

Bottom line – tell your brain who’s boss! Remind yourself that 1) there is nothing you can do about your worries while you are in bed except worry about them so might as well not waste your time 2) that your job is to sleep right now (this is a bit of trickery for your brain, but if you are wired like I am re: needing to always be doing something meaningful, then this is a great way to focus your brain on what’s most meaningful right now – sleep) and 3) You are not skirting your worries – not at all! You are simply going to worry about them tomorrow – when you are fresh and can do something about them.

Tomorrow is another day.

Deep Breathing

I know you know this was going to be on my list. Because if you have been a faithful follower of mine you know that a few deep breaths are the miracle solution to just about everything!

Deep breathing relaxes you.
Deep breathing engages your parasympathetic nervous system – slowing your heart rate which has most likely increased as you worry through your sympathetic nervous system (the one that helps you with the fight or flight response).
Deep breathing helps to lower the cortisol (stress hormone) levels in our body.

I talk more about different types of breathing (and other ways to relax) in this blog. You may want a refresher on those topics as well. But for purposes of our worry conversation, here’s a great breathing exercise to consider. I add a little visualization to this one which I think makes a big difference.

OK – set the stage. You are in the middle of a worry wonderland. You can’t concentrate. You can’t pull yourself out. You feel yourself going down a negative path.

Sit back from your computer (or in a comfy spot in your house).
Close your eyes.
Put your hands on your lower abdomen – this will be where you start to draw your inhale.
When ready, focus on taking a slow steady inhale from your abdomen (where you hands are).
Breathe in through your nose for a count of 3.
Hold your breath for a long count of 1.
Then slowly exhale out of your mouth for a count of 6.
Repeat another 4-6 times.

Now, to make this even more useful, try a visualization.
As you inhale, think of all the things you are worrying about.
Let those worries ride your breath to your brain.
When you hold your breath for a long count of 1, picture all those worries congealing into a ball.
As you slowly exhale, envision that big ball of worries being exhaled out of your body.
Repeat another 4-6 times until you have exhaled all your worries away.

While all of the steps are important (inhale, hold, exhale), the exhale is our worry release money maker. Because, when you inhale, your heart actually speeds up a bit. With the exhale however, the vagus nerve releases a neurotransmitter substance called acetylcholine or ACh which goes directly to the heart, telling it to slow down.

And slow down is what you want. Try a few deep breaths right now and notice the difference.

Create a worry list and a designated worry time.

This suggestion is one I received from Thrive Global through the work I do with them as a facilitator and executive coach.

For all you schedulers out there, you are welcome ahead of time for this idea.

Knowing that the action of worrying is just that – an action – you can use your ability to schedule your day to help manage your worry time as well.

First – building of a worry list. It’s no secret that we have millions of pieces of information to process every minute of every day. And, if we don’t find ways to focus, those millions of pieces of information can easily derail productivity.

So, similar to a To Do list that we keep to remind us of all the things we need to get done, a worry list is simply our list of worries.

Picture this – you are in the middle of a meeting and you remember that you need to call the dentist for your cleanings. What do you do? You write ‘call dentist’ on your to do list (or email yourself, or add to your notes on your computer). Then you return to focusing on the meeting because you captured your thought and you now will schedule time to call the dentist when you are able.

Try that now with a worry. You are in a meeting and you start thinking about that project that you have to complete but you haven’t had time to focus on yet. You start to worry that you won’t find time to do a good job. Then you start worrying about your ability to do the project well.

OK! Take you pen and write on your worry list ‘project X time’. Your brain refocuses on the meeting knowing that you will schedule time later this week to deal with all aspects of project X.

What if you are just worried about things in general? Well – get a list of ‘general worries’ started and add to that list when a new one pops in your head.

Step one – write them down.

Step two – schedule time to worry.

In the case of Project X, you can simply schedule time to get the project started when you are focused just on that project. That alone will most likely stop the worry.

In the case of general worries? Set aside 15 minutes every day to sit and worry about them. So, keep that list handy. I would schedule time at the end of the day so that you can stay focused the majority of your day knowing you will worry later. And if you end the day with a big worry session then you can head into your evening/bed time routine a bit less stressed. Like a big exhale of the day! But, you do you – schedule time when you think best in your schedule.

Then during those 15 minutes – simply let yourself worry! You can try to solve worries that are in your control. You can let go of worries that are outside of your control. You can laugh. You can cry. You can get angry. You can smile. Just let it all out.

And then move on when you are done. Tomorrow will be another day, with another 15 minutes to worry.

I might also recommend you end your worry session with a few deep breaths as outlined above. Inhale all the worries on your list, then exhale them all out of your body.

Need some more structure/ideas for worry time? This blog does a great job detailing out a process for designated worry time as well. Might be worth a read.

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