Sometimes, worrying is helpful especially if it spurs you to take action and solve a problem. Small doses of worry make us stay focused and alert.
But if you’re already becoming preoccupied with “what ifs” and worst-case scenarios, then you have a problem. Your unrelenting anxious thoughts and fears can paralyze and affect how you live your life.
“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” – Leo Buscaglia
It’s like a storm brewing in your mind, making you think irrationally and zapping your mental, emotional, and physical energy.
The good news is that chronic worrying is a mental habit that can be broken. You can successfully break free from it by training your brain to stay calm.
Now let’s look at 9 scientifically-backed ways to feel less worried:
1. Stop the adrenaline
When you are stressed and worried, your body releases the “fight or flight” hormone – adrenaline. According to NHS UK, adrenaline causes the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as an increased heart rate and increased sweating.
The next time you experience racing thoughts, deal with it calmly by:
- Take a slow breath in through the nose, breathing into your lower belly so you feel it inflate like a balloon (for the count of 4)
- Hold your breath for 1 or 2 seconds
- Exhale slowly through the mouth so that you are pushing out the air in the “balloon” and you feel your belly suck in (for the count of 5)
- Make sure the exhale breath is one or two counts longer than the inhale breath as this activates a greater relaxation response.
- Wait a few seconds before taking another breath
When we practice deep breathing, it triggers the stimulation of the vagus nerve according to this article. It is a nerve running from the base of the brain to the abdomen.
Deep breathing causes the vagas nerve to emit a chemical (the neurotransmitter acetylcholine) that dampens our nervous system, lowers heart rate, and relaxes the muscles. Most importantly, it helps stop your thoughts from racing so you can think straight.
2. Get enough sleep
According to Berkeley News, the lack of sleep plays a key role in ramping up the brain regions that contribute to excessive worrying.
Neuroscientists found that when we experience sleep deprivation, our worrying is amplified by firing up the brain’s amygdala and insular cortex, regions associated with emotional processing.
Not only that, the research suggests that people who are naturally more anxious are more vulnerable to the impact of insufficient sleep. So the hours of your sleep is the most important thing to change if you are feeling stressed.
“These findings help us realize that those people who are anxious by nature are the same people who will suffer the greatest harm from sleep deprivation,” Matthew Walker, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at UC Berkeley.
The average amount of sleep needed by adults for a well-rested body and mind is around seven hours a night. If you aren’t getting enough, your mood and bodily functions will be negatively affected.
You get angry more easily, have problematic relationships, and are less likely to engage in fun leisure activities because of tiredness from lack of sleep.
3. Plan your worry time
“When we’re engaged in worry, it doesn’t really help us for someone to tell us to stop worrying,” said Tom Borkovec, a professor emeritus of psychology at Penn State University. “If you tell someone to postpone it for a while, we are able to actually do that.”
Instead of worrying all day, every day, researchers found that planning your worry time helps you take control of your worrying.
According to LiveScience, confining your worrying in a single, scheduled 30- minute period each day, you will be able to cope up with your problems better.
Four steps are involved in the stimulus control therapy to reduce worrying and they are the following:
- Step one: Identify the reasons for your worry.
- Step two: Plan the time and place to think about said worry.
- Step three: If you catch yourself worrying at a time other than your designated worry time, you must make a point to think of something else. Avoid thinking about your worries if it is not during the designated time.
- Step four: Use your “worry time” productively by thinking of solutions to the worries.
4. Avoid screen time
The time you spend on Facebook or other social media applications is doing you more harm than good. You get too addicted to it that you worry when you are away from your email or Facebook.
Technology makes our lives more convenient and entertaining but we also lose out on chances to practice coping with uncertainty, inconvenience, and boredom.
“These findings suggest that some may need to re-establish control over the technology they use, rather than being controlled by it,” Anxiety UK CEO Nicky Lidbetter.
5. Practice mindfulness
The centuries-old advice “practice of mindfulness” can help you stop worrying by bringing your attention back to the present. Mindfulness technique involves nonjudgmental awareness of present thoughts and emotions.
According to ScienceDirect, mindfulness and cognitive behavioral interventions reduce rumination and worry.
The research found that “treatments in which participants are encouraged to change their thinking style or to disengage from the emotional response to rumination or worry,” is effective in treating chronic worriers.
Treatments based on mindfulness help enable participants to adopt more concrete and specific thinking. They are also able to cognitively restructure their thinking in a more positive and constructive way.
6. Accept your worries and move on
It starts with a single thought. Then you fall into the cycle of worrying about a lot of stuff.
Worrying about worrying is a dangerous cycle to fall into. According to a 2005 study, people who naturally try to suppress their unwanted thoughts end up being more distressed by the same thoughts.
On the other hand, “those who are naturally more accepting of their intrusive thoughts are less obsessional, have lower levels of depression, and are less anxious,” the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee researchers wrote.
Results revealed that those who used the acceptance approach experienced a decrease in discomfort level.
7. Write whatever you are worried about
According to US News, researchers suggest a simple way to reduce stress – write it down. Studies reveal that when you let all your emotions out on paper before a big exam, it helps decrease test-taking worry.
“It might be counterintuitive, but it’s almost as if you empty the fears out of your mind. You reassess that situation so that you’re not as likely to worry about those situations because you’ve slain that beast.,” study researcher Sian Beilock, an associate professor in psychology at the University of Chicago, told U.S. News.
Beilock suggested that that the approach could work for people facing anxieties for other things.
8. Get busy
When we don’t have anything to do, our minds wander and worry about the things that will not happen. But when we engage in activities that keep our minds and hands busy, it helps prevent flashbacks from traumatic experiences.
According to science, this strategy impacts everyday worry. The American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Bob Hirshon pointed out that “keeping your hands and mind busy interferes with storing and encoding visual images.”
According to the researchers from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, meditation can really help stop worrying.
“This showed that just a few minutes of mindfulness meditation can help reduce normal everyday anxiety,” said Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., lead author of the study..
The study suggests that meditation training not only lowers anxiety levels in people, but it also had effects on the our emotions and thinking, the latter controls worrying. They found that anxiety levels decreased by up to 39 percent after the mindfulness meditation training.
Worry starts one nagging thought. Before you know it, there is already a raging storm brewing in your mind.
But when you learn to control and handle such thoughts when they pop up, you can tame monsters you build in your own mind.
“When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.” – Winston Churchill
Do you want to live a mindful life?
The simple fact is that learning about Buddhism and other eastern philosophies can empower genuine lasting change in our lives.
In my new eBook, I unwrap these iconic teachings and detail specific actions you can take to improve your daily life. Together we're going to work to strengthen your relationships, increase your emotional resilience, and systematically train your mind.
After reading this eBook, you’ll be equipped with all the tools you need to live a happier and more satisfying life.
Sign up to Hack Spirit's daily emails
Learn how to reduce stress, cultivate healthy relationships, handle people you don't like and find your place in the world.