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How to Stop Worrying - 7 Effective Ways

 

How To Stop Worrying

 

To stop worrying you will learn strategies that will shift your brain from operating in the left prefrontal cortex worry mode to operating the right prefrontal cortex problem solving mode.

 

The definition of worrying is to cause anxiety by dwelling on difficulties.

 

When we worry, we repetitively think about the negative aspects of a problem.

 

We may do this because we are already feeling anxious. Then the worrying makes us feel more anxious. Then we feel anxious about feeling anxious. It’s a vicious circle that could lead to symptoms of a panic attack.

 

Worrying is a normal part of life. It’s a signal that something could be wrong. It helps us solve problems. It prepares us for potential future problems.

 

Worrying can also be a sign of an anxiety disorder if the worries are excessive and the resulting anxiety interferes with your life.

 

 

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

 

GAD is the most common diagnosis for individuals with excessive worry and anxiety.

 

Symptoms include:

 

  • Persistent worry and apprehension that is out of proportion to what would actually happen

 

  • Difficulty controlling worried thoughts

 

  • Worries over routine daily activities and experiences (Job, health, finances, family, household chores, being late)

 

  • Difficulty making decisions

 

The worry and apprehension goes well beyond normal daily worries and is associated with significant physical symptoms of:

 

  • Restlessness or feeling on edge

 

  • Trembling, twitching

 

  • Fatigue

 

  • Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank

 

  • Feeling irritable

 

  • Muscle tension or muscle soreness

 

  • Poor sleep

 

  • Frequent urination and/or diarrhea

 

  • Sweating

 

  • Nausea

 

 

Worry Center of the Brain

 

 

Brain imaging studies have identified that a small almond shaped structure in the brain called the amygdala is associated with worry (Elizabeth I. Martin, PhD, Kerry J. Ressler et al. 2009). They found an increase in activity in the amygdala and in the left prefrontal cortex of adolescents diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

 

Researchers Pine and Le Doux have suggested that the amygdala sounds the alarm but the thoughts in your prefrontal cortex are responsible for labeling the anxiety and fear (Joseph E. LeDoux, Ph.D., Daniel S. Pine, M.D., 2016).

 

Your prefrontal cortex is responsible for planning, attention and focus, making decisions, and regulating social behavior (called executive functioning).

 

This part of your brain decides if the worry or fear is real or not real.

 

Your amygdala will respond to the decisions coming from your prefrontal cortex. Your amygdala picks up cues from your thoughts and behavior. Learning how to communicate with your amygdala differently, has the power to over-ride the fear response and decrease anxiety.

 

When we worry, we continually spin around between our left prefrontal cortex and amygdala. This can become a vicious cycle because your thoughts are focused on danger, your amygdala then triggers the anxiety alarm, causing you to have more thoughts of danger, and causing your amygdala to keep sounding the alarm.

 

Another brain imaging study at UCLA also discovered that when people were shown a photograph of an angry or fearful face, they had increased activity in the amygdala (Matthew D. Lieberman et. al. 2007).  

 

But when the people attached the feeling word “Angry,” there was decreased activity in the amygdala. They discovered that only “feeling words” caused a decrease in the amygdala and an increase in the right prefrontal cortex. Attaching a name like “Harry” did not have the same effect.

 

So worry causes a vicious cycle between your amygdala and your left prefrontal cortex.

 

Labeling your emotions turns on your right prefrontal cortex and shuts off your amygdala.

 

This suggests that labelling your negative emotions helps to reduce them. 

 

 

How to Stop Worrying - 7 Effective Ways

 

1. Don’t try to stop worrying

 

I realize the irony of instructing you to not stop worrying under the heading of ways to stop worrying. What I am really saying is, don’t avoid your worry and anxiety.

 

Sometimes the harder you try to stop a worry, the more you will have it. The worry might also be a sign that a real problem needs to be solved. So by just stopping it, you may actually be avoiding the problem and not solving it. This will only keep you feeling anxious. 

 

Avoiding the worry only temporarily reduces the anxiety. 

 

Avoidance actually strengthens anxiety’s hold on you and increases the likelihood of future worried thoughts. 

 

 

2. Schedule Worry Time

 

Instead of avoiding your worry and procrastinating, set aside time to focus on your worry and to problem-solve.

 

 

3. Label the worry as an “Anxious Thought”

 

Instead of focusing on the content of the worry, such as “What if I can’t remember what to say during my speech, I will look stupid,” focus on it being a thought that produces anxiety. This will move you away from the emotional content of the thought. 

 

Label your emotion and label the worry say, “It’s just an anxiety provoking thought.”

 

Focusing on the content of the worry keeps you spinning round and round on the merry-go-round. Labeling the thought as an “Anxiety Provoking Thought” allows you to step off the merry-go-round and observe it with some safe distance.

 

 

4. Write It Down

 

Writing a worry down allows you to stop mentally spinning about it. If it is written down, then you don’t have to ruminate about it.

 

Writing your worry down helps remove it from your subjective experience so you can objectively analyze it on paper.

 

This also allows you to decide to deal with it at a later time, especially if you are having trouble falling asleep due to the worry.

 

Write down what you are worried about, the feeling you have, what you fear will happen, what you want the outcome to be, and then some possible solutions:

 

I am worried about                                                              .

 

Because of this worry I feel                                                 .

 

I am afraid                                                                   will happen.

 

What I want to happen is                                                     .

 

Possible ways to make this happen are                                .

 

 

5. Detaching yourself from the Worry

 

After writing down your worry, you will no longer need to think about it. But the reality is that the worry can keep popping up, especially when trying to go to sleep.

 

Here are some ways to detach yourself from the worry:

 

  • Allow the worry to flow into your head.  Close your eyes and imagine the worried thought and/or image floating out of your head like a leaf, landing on a stream of water, and gently floating down the stream.  Repeat this each time the worry pops into your head.

 

  • Close your eyes and project the worry on a black chalk board, then erase it with a large chalk eraser.  Allow the worry to appear on the chalk board several times and erase it each time.  You can then write more helpful words or thoughts on the blackboard such as “Calm” or “Sleep” if you are trying to get to sleep.

 

  • Close your eyes and imagine sitting in a large movie theater alone and project the worried thoughts as images onto a large movie screen and watch them while sitting in the back of the theater.  You can imagine yourself eating popcorn while watching.  Then imagine yourself watching from the projector booth where you can fast forward, rewind, and pause the images.

 

 

6. Talk About It

 

Talking to others about your worries helps you label your worries and emotions. This can shut down the cycle of worry.

 

Talking to other people helps you shift out of silent worry mode and activates other parts of your brain responsible for speech, hearing, and abstract reasoning. This helps increase your brains resources to solve problems.

 

Other people can also provide different perspectives and ways of dealing with your worries.

 

 

7. Refocus

 

Now that you have confronted the worried thoughts, detached yourself from them, and maybe even problem-solved, it’s time to refocus.

 

Move on to your next task. Focus on what’s going on around you. 

 

Think about the things that you have control over, that you are certain about, and you are grateful for. 

 

Get out of your prefrontal cortex. Shift over to another part of your brain by coloring, listening to music, exercising, or other enjoyable tasks that require your mental attention.

 

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Russell Hunter, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist

I want to help you. Please feel free to contact me confidentially by email below with any questions or if you need some advice about the content posted on The Fear Blog.

Attacking Panic: The Power To Be Calm. Copyright © 2017 Russell A. Hunter, Psy.D. All rights reserved. Attacking Panic is available in paperback and Kindle edition at Amazon and in paperback at Barnes & Noble and other online retailers.

How to Stop A Panic Attack Quickly.

Russell A. Hunter, Psy.D. Psychology Today Profile

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