Worrying is your brain’s way of reminding you that you have a problem and need to find a solution. So far, so good.
However, very often, worrying becomes less about actually finding a solution to a real problem, and more something referred to as ‘ruminating’. The word comes from the action of ruminants, such as cows or sheep, who spend up to eight hours a day chewing grass, regurgitating it to chew it again.
If this sounds like your thought processes, if you are aware that you are over-thinking, or even obsessing, it makes you feel bad, and you can’t switch it off or stop worrying, that isn’t problem-solving, it’s ruminating.
If this is a serious issue for you, then you need to talk to a medical professional. You may have OCD (which is not all about handwashing) or another anxiety disorder which requires treatment. However, if like many of us, this is something which isn’t taking over your life, but is reducing your quality of life, then there are some things you can do to help:
You can’t control everything.
Accept that there are things in your life that you cannot control. If you can’t change these things (for now at least), or leave the situation, then accept that this is how things currently are. This isn’t defeatist, it’s just looking after your mental health. Put your energy into changing the things you actually can control.
Prioritise self care.
Look after yourself physically. Too much caffeine or sugar will put you into a more hyper-alert state, which will encourage rumination. Get some exercise, so you’re physically tired (though not just before bed).
Schedule ‘worry time’.
Try actually scheduling some time when you are ‘allowed’ to worry. Give yourself 30 minutes a day (not just before bed) and let rip. Write it all down in a journal. Go for it. Then, at the end of the 30 minutes, shut the journal and go and do something else. When worries arise at other times, remind yourself that this is not your worry time. It sounds bananas, but research backs this method up.
Meditate regularly. You may resist meditation because your brain takes it as an opportunity to start worrying. This is normal, but you can re-train your brain with practice. Think of it as being like an unruly puppy. You have to put in some time and effort to gently train it. When these worry thoughts arise, imagine putting them someonewhere and watching them go. For example, into a big bubble that floats away and pops. With regular practice, this gets easier, and the benefits of meditation go into your whole life, not just the time you’re doing it. It has been shown to strengthen the connections between the amygdala (the bit that worries) and the more developed pre-frontal cortex that can get the amygdala to pipe down.
Use humour. I wrote about this last week, but laughing (including at yourself and your inner troll) is an excellent way of dealing with worry.
Keep a journal and identify any key triggers you have that set off worrying. For example, talking to certain other people, lying in bed unable to sleep. Once you have the triggers, think of ways to avoid them, such as not spending so much time with that person, or getting up and making a cup of camomile tea before going back to bed.
If you think you might need some support to stop worrying so much, contact me and we can set up a free initial chat about how coaching could help.