When people don’t know the outcome of a future event, it often causes worry. Psychologists call this apprehensive feeling anxiety. Though it’s normal to have these feelings from time to time, it’s important to learn several methods to stop anxious thoughts and adopt a positive frame of mind. Here are five techniques to use to achieve this goal.
1. Use the Progressive Muscle Relaxation Technique
Progressive muscle relaxation can reduce your anxiety level by reducing the muscle tension that comes with worry. Because the brain is the connecting point for the relaxation response, when a person consciously relaxes each of the muscle groups in his or her body, the mental tension subsides as well. Isolate one muscle group, concentrate on relaxing those muscles, and then move on to the next one. Continue for a few minutes until the tension is gone. Repeat as necessary. If you find this technique difficult, a therapist can help you learn how to implement it.
2. Interrupt Your Train of Thought
When worry consumes a large part of one’s thoughts, it creates a pattern in the brain that’s difficult to overcome. When you interrupt that pattern with another thought or sensory stimulus, it can break up the pattern. For example, if you find yourself in a spiral of worrisome thoughts, take a break to play a problem-solving game, read a chapter of a favourite book, or change your environment for a few minutes. Self-affirmation and positive slogans, too, can help interrupt the anxious thought process.
Physical activity can help as well. Not only is physical activity rich in sensory stimuli, it also may release endorphins and serotonin, chemicals that provide natural stress relief. Exercise also helps stress hormones dissipate, resulting in a more relaxed frame of mind.
3. Control Your Breathing
When you feel tense and worried, your breathing shifts into the body’s “flight or fight” mode. If there were a physical threat, this increased rate of breathing can pump in the extra oxygen your body would need to deal with the threat with immediate action. Most of today’s worries aren’t things one needs this extra fuel for. In fact, this additional oxygen can disrupt your body’s oxygen-carbon dioxide balance and cause symptoms like light-headedness, tingling and numbness in your hands and feet, clammy hands, and an elevated heart rate. To regain control, here’s what you can do:
- Still yourself: Take a seat or lie down if you can. A more relaxed posture can help slow your breathing rate.
- Inhale: Breathe in deeply through your nose for about four seconds. Use your diaphragm, not your upper chest, to fill your lungs completely with air.
- Hold: Hold your breath for about two seconds. This will cause your body to consume the oxygen already in your lungs to correct the balance of gases.
- Exhale: Breathe out slowly for about six seconds, again through your nose if you can. Pause, and then begin the cycle again.
- Repeat: Repeat as often as you need to get your worries under control. To keep chronic worries at bay, practise this exercise once or twice every day.
4. Schedule a Worry Time
Studies show that people whose worries often become intrusive can benefit from scheduling a time to think about their worrisome thoughts. Identify each of the thoughts that cause you to worry. Write them down if it helps you remember. Next, designate a place and time to think about those thoughts. When that time comes, go to the place you’ve chosen to think about these issues. During that time, brainstorm solutions for these challenges. When you find yourself worrying about one of these issues outside the given place or time, think of something else to distract yourself. Remember that you can return to that thought later during your designated time.
5. Keep Positive Company
Emotions can be contagious. When you’re filled with worry, the last thing you need is people around you who complain, criticise, or find the worst in every situation. Without shunning them altogether, avoid their company as much as possible. Seek out people who have a more upbeat view of life. Studies show that supportive relationships help build resilience, the quality that helps people handle adversity. Choosing to be around positive people can also increase your confidence levels and boost your sense of self-worth, both qualities that help you reduce your worries to a manageable level.
If worry ever becomes such a challenge that you can’t overcome it on your own, there’s help. Talk to a professional to help you get started down the road towards successful worry management.