woman looking out window worrying

You probably know all too well the unnerving feeling of worrying. Whether it comes on during the day while you're trying to get things done, or at night when you're desperately searching for sleep, there are few emotional states as stress-inducing as worry. In fact, when some people worry, they become stressed about the fact that they are worrying, which leads to a circuitous loop of suffering and anxiety.

What is worry, and what causes it?
Worry is an anxious state of mind brought about by over-concern with the future and fear about what it might bring. At the heart of worry lies a preoccupation with unknowable outcomes. Sometimes the worrying state of mind is brought about by past experiences. Worry is often caused by a lack of acceptance of the fact that many outcomes in life cannot be controlled.

By thinking repetitively about circumstances and casting about for solutions, worriers feel they are doing something to address their situation. Although engaging in worried thought patterns may bring worriers a temporary sense of control, the reality is that the act of worrying does not solve problems. The only way worry can lead to problem-solving is by shifting to a calmer mental state that allows for solutions to emerge.

With the increasingly hectic pace of modern life, a limitless number of situations vie for us to be worried about. In order to help calm your mind amidst the chaos, try these simple strategies:

Schedule Worry Time
One of the most effective techniques for worriers is to schedule a specific time of day for worrying, and to allow worried thoughts only during that time. If you find yourself unable to stop worrying, allow yourself 10 minutes per day to worry. Pick a regular time for this to occur. When the time comes, set a timer for 10 minutes, and worry to your heart's content, writing down your concerns if it helps.

When the timer goes off, shift your attention away from worries, and tell yourself you can think about them again tomorrow at the same time. This reassures the worried part of your mind that it will have a chance to go over the situation again, yet allows you to limit the amount of time spent worrying.

Focus on Solutions
When you're worrying, you're thinking about problems or potential challenges. To stop worrying, try shifting to a problem-solving mode. As soon as you notice your mind spiralling into worries, make a conscious effort to stop your circular thinking. Then brainstorm a few possible solutions to the worrisome situation--write them down if it helps you to focus. In some cases, you may realise that you're not worried about anything in particular, but instead have a more general sense of "free-floating" anxiety. If so, try one of the strategies below.

Focus on Breathing
Directing your attention to the rhythmic nature of your own breath can help to calm you down. Each time you feel your mind wandering back to worry, take a deep breath, counting slowly to three as you do so, and then exhale completely. Try to make your exhalation twice as long as your inhalation with a count of six. Repeat this pattern as often as needed, and return to it if your mind wanders again.

Put it in the Pot
Another popular technique to counter worry is to visualise yourself taking the situation you're concerned about, putting it in a pot, and putting a lid over it. Then put the pot on a backburner in your mind, and ask your subconscious to work on the problem overnight. Tell yourself that in the morning, you will check the pot and see if there is a solution. Many who use this method find that their mind will come up with an idea if given the time to do so in this way. The secret is that you cannot check the pot until the morning--remember that a watched pot never boils.

Other ideas for redirecting your worry include:

  • Envisage a stop sign in your mind each time a worry arises.
  • Use a rubber band around your wrist to flick as a gentle reminder not to let worrying take over.
  • Think of something positive, such as a loved one or a recent good experience, to shift your attention off of your worries.

By taking the time to practice these strategies, you'll find that you can take control of your worry before it controls you--and in the process, you'll nip stress in the bud.