Many of us were raised to associate worrying with being responsible, so not only are we now uber-responsible, we feel like a Girl, Interrupted sequel. The good news is, you can undo this way of thinking.
It’s a conditioned behavior, and much like you’d set a goal to exercise more or eat healthier, you can replace your habit of worrying with a healthier way of thinking.
I’ve always reacted to change — even good change — as if it were a Shakespearean tragedy. Did something amazing just happen? Get ready for a safe to fall on your head. Do you want to try something new? Here’s a list of the 2,736 things that could go wrong. Relaxing schmelaxing — I’m not done damaging my psyche with every worst case scenario!
I come from a long line of neurotic, lovable women who have what I like to call an “Armageddon complex.” Otherwise known as chronic worrying or generalized anxiety disorder, you endlessly wait for the worst to happen – so much so, the theme song for your life is Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic.” When I share my future plans with my mom, her unwavering support is often saddled with danger warnings that leave me huddled in the corner (think Sheila Jackson on Shameless). Always preparing for the worst is the worst, and it’s a habit I’m now working hard to let go of.
“It’s estimated we have about 60,000 thoughts a day and 50,000 of those are negative,” says Dr. Kathy Gruver, author of Conquer Your Stress with Mind-Body Techniques. What’s worse, according to a study published in Psychological Science, people who let everyday stress get to them have a higher risk of psychological distress 10 years from now.
Here are five mind-over-matter tips to help you move on from your Armageddon complex:
Allow yourself to worry
Trying to ignore your feelings or thoughts is called “experiential avoidance,” which causes loads of stress to your mind and body. Plus, there’s an ironic twist — the more you suppress your worries, the more you’ll worry. “The best thing you can do is silently acknowledge it to yourself and immediately decide what you’re going to do about it,” says Tina Gilbertson, author of Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them.
Stop watching the news
When you watch the news, it sends your limbic system into overdrive (the part of the brain that controls your emotions) and sends your body into a state of chronic stress. The more devastating the news, the more likely you are to become fearful, aggressive and neurotic. Since it’s already a full-time job being who we are, let’s change the channel, shall we?
Put your worry on repeat
When you put a song you’re in love with on repeat, you end up playing it so much you can’t stand to hear it anymore. The same is true with what you’re worrying about — keep repeating the worry over and over again. Eventually, it loses all meaning and you stop thinking about it. (Seriously, it works!)
Don’t get on the bus
This is a fabulous trick I picked up from Ted Zeff’s book, The Highly Sensitive Person’s Survival Guide: consider your mind a bus terminal. Each bus is labeled with an individual thought you’re having and will take you to the feelings you’ll have if you continue obsessing over said thought. Do you really want your “job stress” bus to take you to Anxietyville? Of course not, so watch it drive away and wait for a better bus to come along.
I’ve never enjoyed people worrying about me — it makes me feel like they doubt my ability to handle stress or other challenges. Meanwhile, I’ve been doing the exact same thing! When we worry, we’re also underestimating what we’re capable of. Tamar Chansky, Ph.D., author of Freeing Yourself from Anxiety: The 4-Step Plan to Overcome Worry and Create the Life You Want, recommends we “realize these patterns are self-defeating and challenge ourselves to try a different response. In doing so, something incredible happens: we feel better.”