By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated June 22, 2012)
Many people subconsciously believe that worrying about things helps them prevent negative outcomes, or at least prepare for them. But worrying all the time defeats the purpose by making life continuously unpleasant, and many of the things that people worry about are unlikely to happen, or wouldn’t be as bad as anticipated if they did.
Worrying may provide the illusion of greater control, but excessive worry actually robs you of control of your thought processes, as well as your enjoyment of life. When worries become obsessive and anxiety takes hold, there are techniques that you can use to regain control.
Postpone Your Worries and Control the Timing
Sometimes worrying can be productive, for example, if it helps you attend to and solve a problem. However, it becomes unproductive when it’s allowed to incapacitate you on its own schedule, and most worries serve no productive purpose at all. The following technique will increase your control over worrying if you practice every day.
Schedule a time during the day when you can worry as much as you want. If worries try to intrude in the interim, just postpone them for the designated worry time. When the time comes around, you can either pay attention to all your worries or postpone them again. This breaks the cycle of worry demanding your attention whenever it arises.
While worrying, sort your concerns into legitimate issues (realistic concerns and things that you can do something about) and pointless distractions (things that are unlikely to happen, or possible outcomes you wouldn’t be able to change no matter what you did). Create practical plans to address the former, and make an agreement with yourself to let the others go.
If you’re worrying excessively about things that might happen but that that you can’t control, you need to work on accepting uncertainty as part of life. This can be difficult, as it requires relinquishing the illusion of control, but it can free your mind from chronic worry-induced anxieties and increase the quality of your life overall.
Stop Fighting Anxiety
If you are prone to panic attacks or generalized anxiety, fighting panic and anxiety can increase their hold over you. Oddly enough, the best way to regain control of your mind is to give up the illusion of control over circumstances. Dr. Reid Wilson provides an excellent analogy for this. He notes that in the Western world, we tend to think of fighting in terms of boxing – when punched, punch back. However, anxiety is better addressed from the perspective of the Eastern martial art Aikido, which encourages combatants to “push when pulled and pull when pushed.” In other words, “You accept, join and move with the challenger’s energy flow in the direction it is going. You offer nothing for the challenger to resist. You turn and spin with the attacker instead of moving past him.”
Reid argues that anxiety sufferers should stop fighting panic and instead seek to learn from it. What is the panic trying to tell you? For example, do you need to become more assertive? Are there feelings you’re suppressing in an attempt to keep everybody happy all the time? Do you need to change your life direction? What could your anxiety be trying to tell you?
Keep in mind that not fighting doesn’t mean doing nothing at all. You can still use highly effective relaxation approaches such as progressive muscle relaxation, breathing techniques, and exercise, as well as making anxiety-reducing lifestyle changes and dietary choices.
Strategies for Reducing Worry’s Grip on Your Mind
Key worry-reduction strategies include realistic thinking, accepting uncertainty, meditation, turning your focus outward and cultivating mindfulness, and cognitive behavioural therapy.
If you regularly practice thinking in a new way, there is evidence that you can actually change your brain to permanently reduce your anxiety and your tendency to worry excessively (Amen, 1999).
For a full list of natural anxiety reduction strategies, see the main Anxiety Remedies page.
- Amen, D.G., MD. (1999). Change your Brain, Change Your Life: The Breakthrough Program for Conquering Anxiety, Depression, Obsessiveness, Anger, and Impulsiveness. Three Rivers Press.
- Maertz, K. (2014). “Panic/Anxiety Attacks.” University of Alberta, UWell.UAlberta.ca.
- Wilson, R., Dr. (n.d.). “Panic Attacks.” Anxieties.com.