4 habits that will train your brain to stop worrying

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Centuries ago, Michel de Montaigne said, “My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.”

His profound statement still proves true today. In fact, there are studies that prove that a greater percentage of the things we worry about never actually happen.

What if it doesn’t work out? What if I fail? Do any of these questions sound familiar to you? You’re not alone. Many people spend a lot of time worrying — worrying that everything they do is unsatisfactory, and worrying that others are so much better than them. Others worry about letting other people down, that other people are upset with them, and that other people are unhappy.

Constant worrying, negative thinking, and always expecting the worst can take a toll on your emotional and physical health.

Whether it’s a job interview, an upcoming presentation, or an important meeting, 38% of us are worried about something every day, according to the “Worry Less Report” by Liberty Mutual Insurance.

survey of 2,000 millennials also showed that the average respondent spent the equivalent of 63 full days a year worried and stressed out. That’s like two months lost to worry. The ultra-bestselling American pop psychologist Wayne Dyer calls worry a “useless emotion”.

Worries, doubts, and anxieties are a normal part of life. But you consistently question your commitments and responsibilities and your contribution to the various aspects of your life, you should take steps to worry less.

Worrying less can be helpful and productive —when managed it can propel us into action and prevent procrastination.

Worrying can be productive, but not if it’s keeping from living your best life. Some people actively worry about a lot of things — filling up their heads with disastrous scenarios that will never play out. They magnify catastrophe in their minds. Worry overwhelm them so much that it keeps them from actually doing anything about it.

“Worry is part of human nature,” says Robert Leahy, a New York-based clinical psychologist and associate editor of the International Journal of Cognitive Therapy. “For some people, though, worry gets to be overwhelming,” Leahy says. “People who worry a lot tend to become depressed; you can worry yourself into this negative outlook on life.”

Most people spend a lot of time worrying about money, health, work, family, and more. They worry about what might happen if things don’t go exactly to plan. No matter what kind of worry you have, the response in your body is always the same: It increases your stress levels.

According to a new study published in the ScienceDirect, found that many of the worries that occupy an anxious mind never come to fruition. “91.4% of worries did not come true for those with a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)”, the authors highlighted.

Worry robs us of our happiness and causes needless negativity. When you’re stuck in your head, worrying, you are missing out on life. Missing out on friends, opportunities and all the good stuff in the world.

“One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon — instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today” says Dale Carnegie, in his book, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.

Much our anxiety today is down to worrying about things that may never happen, or things we have literally no amount of control over. Of course, if you can control it, do something about it, but either way, you shouldn’t worry unnecessarily if they never happen.

How much worry is it really worth? At what point do we need to stop worrying and accept the situation as it is? What if there was a way to stop worrying (or at least stop worrying so much)?

1. Find your stop-loss point — give worry a limitation

When you find yourself in a cycle of worry and anxiety, stop and ask where your stop-loss point is, i.e. at what point do you stop worrying and let it go?

By giving every worry a limitation, you’re not allowing it to control you but you become mindful about everything occupying your mind and choose to focus on other things instead of digging deeper. It’s one way to retrain your brain to worry less and worry smarter.

2. Acknowledge your worries, and get them out of your head by writing them down

Worrying rarely leads to solutions. Instead of worrying about everything that can go wrong, write away your worries. By writing down your worries, you feel as though you’re emptying your brain, and you feel lighter and less tense.

Take time to acknowledge your worries and write them down. Explore the roots of your worries or problems. Once you know the most important things you worry about, ask yourself if your worries are solvable. If they are not in your control and there is nothing you can possibly do to change them, focus on those you can do solve or change.

“Get everything out and don’t hold back,” says lead author of the “Worry Less Report”, Hans Schroder (Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, Michigan State University). “You don’t have to share your thoughts with anyone, and don’t worry about spelling and grammar. Getting worries out of your head through expressive writing frees up cognitive resources for other things,” he adds.

3. Shift your worry from the long-term problems to daily routines/actions that will solve the problems

Be pragmatic, and proactive about things in your control.

Once you list your worries, identify actions you can take in the short-term to solve the problems and start executing daily, weekly or monthly.

Do one thing every day that brings you closer to solving your perceived problem. Work toward improving the worst-case scenario, which you have already accepted in your mind

This process focuses on taking action about things in your control. It forces you to find solutions to your perceived problems.

Write down how you will deal with them even if they happen. Think of a solution for all your perceived problems. For example, if your financial situation makes you anxious, you need to create a plan to earn more or spend less or invest some of your savings in low-risk investment opportunities.

Or instead of worrying about your weight, focus on healthy dinner options that can help you lose weight. Instead of worrying about your long-term health, focus on taking a walk each day.

4. Interrupt the worry cycle

If you worry excessively, find productive activities that can easily distract your thought process. Keep busy. Get up and get moving — exercise is a natural way to break the cycle because it releases endorphins which relieve tension and stress, boost energy, and enhance your sense of well-being.

You can also distract yourself by doing something completely unrelated and different that forces you to focus on something else. This is most effective if you choose an activity you deeply care about such as practicing your hobby or reading an exceptional book.

Be mindful and observe your worries from an outsider’s perspective, without reacting or judging. This strategy is based on observing your worries and then letting them go, helping you identify where your thinking is causing problems and getting in touch with yourself.

Understanding that we have control over our own thoughts, and therefore our own worries can be a lightbulb moment that changes how you perceive your worries.

Learning to stop worrying will be the catalyst to change your life completely. It won’t happen overnight, and it is something you will need to work at, but once you notice changes, celebrate them and keep doing things that can help you get out of your head more.

If worrying is a problem that you feel you cannot control, it is important to seek professional help. There is no reason to let it run your life.

This article originally appeared on Medium.

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