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With so many unknown answers to questions about what our world will look like later this year or even next month, it is completely normal to find yourself worrying more now than you usually do. Occasional anxiety is a natural part of life, but if you find yourself persistently concerned about what might happen, it may be time to take action and press pause on your worry button. Persistent worry can begin to have negative impacts on your health beyond your emotional state - insomnia, headaches, digestive stress and more. Don’t wait for that to happen. There are a number of things you can try to get yourself off this negative rollercoaster and back on track. Today’s post offers 10 suggestions for pressing pause on the worry button, whether you are worried about what your financial picture may look like at the end of this pandemic or you are concerned about your health or the health of a loved one or even anxious about relationship challenges caused by close quarter quarantining.
Let’s begin by taking a look at the act of worrying. By it’s very nature, worrying is a “forward thinking” activity. We worry about something that might happen in the future or the future impact of a current situation. Since our brain is actively looking into the future and cataloging possible negative outcomes to watch out for, we need to either shift the focus of attention to the present moment, add positive ideas to the catalog of potential future outcomes or shift our perspective to a point where we simply feel better.
Shift Your Focus to the Present Moment
1.How about a little mindfulness? The Oxford dictionary defines mindfulness as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique”. There are a plethora of methods to practice mindfulness, but listed below a few common approaches.
Meditate with a focus on the breath. As few as five minutes of focused attention on your breath can help activate your parasympathetic nervous system and begin to physically calm your body. It is easiest if you find a quiet place, free of distractions, but you can do this at your desk, in the kitchen, just about anywhere. Simply close your eyes, draw your attention inward and begin to focus on the coming and going of your breath. There are so many aspects of breathing that you can pay attention to while doing this:
What parts of your body move while you are breathing?
Where does your breath go to inside your body?
Is the cadence of your breathing even or does it change from breath to breath?
Is the temperature of your inhale different from the temperature of your exhale?
Get really curious about what it feels like to breath.
Alternatively, pick a number and simply count your breaths until you reach that number.
Take a mindful walk. For this option, head outside and begin walking at a slow but comfortable pace. See if you can match your steps to your breaths and maintain that pace and number of steps per breath.
Pick a task that you need to do and use your will power to focus 100% of your attention on each and every facet of what you are doing. For instance, if you are cleaning up the kitchen after a meal, notice the movement of your hands, the feel of water on your skin, its temperature, the smoothness of the counter, the shape of the crumbs you are wiping away, and so much more.
2. Find a diversion to help redirect your attention for a period of time. Consciously give yourself permission to set aside your worry for the moment and go do something fun. A lighthearted activity or something that will require your full focus is best for this choice. Or choose something engaging and where you will be likely to laugh.
Play a sport.
Listen to comedy.
Watch a funny movie.
Host a Zoom chat happy hour with friends.
Shift to more Positive or Constructive Thought Patterns
3. Do three things right now to take action toward alleviating your concerns, even if the steps seem small compared to the worry. For example, if you are worried about your financial future you could brainstorm three ways you can spend less money today. Or you could do some research to find a book to read or class to take to help you make sound financial decisions.
4. Make a plan and put it in writing. Consider various likely scenarios and write down what you could do in each situation if it were to come to pass. This doesn’t need to be perfect. This is simply a method of allowing you to begin to feel that there could be many avenues for addressing this future concern.
5. Question yourself about your worry. Do you have any evidence that what you are worrying about will come to pass? How high is the likelihood? Is there anything you could do now or in the future to help decrease the likelihood of it happening or to decrease the impact if it does? Transfer these thoughts from mind to paper and make a conscious decision to let them reside there for awhile.
6. Take a walk and brainstorm all of the things that could come to pass that would be worse than what you are worrying about. No scenario is off the list here. Get creative, if not down right ridiculous, as you begin to struggle for more answers after you list some of the obvious ones. Continue to do this until you notice a shift in your perspective.
Engage in an Activity that Simply Makes You Feel Better.
7. Make a gratitude list. It’s nearly impossible to worry and feel gratitude simultaneously. This goes back to worry being a forward thinking activity, while gratitude is something you feel in the present moment. This is why keeping a gratitude journal is such a powerful tool to increase the overall level of happiness in your life. As you list each item, take a moment to really feel in your body, as opposed to letting your mind do the work to think, list and move on.
8. Get some exercise. This can help you create endorphins and dopamine - the happy brain chemicals that not only make you feel better, but can also help you feel more capable, confident and in control.
9. Help someone else that is struggling. Research has shown that even the intention and commitment to help others stimulates neural changes in your brain that in turn can make you happier. Studies have also shown that people feel stronger and more energetic after helping others.
10. And last, but not least, perhaps a little self nurturing would help.
A warm bath with either some uplifting citrus essential oils or calming, soothing lavender can do wonders for making one feel better.
Consider allowing yourself to sleep-in tomorrow morning. Make a conscious intention and plan to do so. Intend to get up and make yourself a healthy breakfast and perhaps even take a nice morning walk before starting your day. Make your plan the night before so that you don’t feel guilty for the valuable and oh so precious extra time you are taking for yourself.
Pick up a good book, snuggle up with a cozy blanket on the couch or in warm spot in the sunshine and let yourself be mentally transported elsewhere.
Do you have any other ways for pressing pause on your worry button? Please share in the comments below. There are so many ways to shift our perspective. Let’s keep that button on pause for awhile.
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