Do you lie in bed at night worrying about your seemingly never-ending to-do list? Do you always assume the worst in situations? You’re not alone.
Everyone has worries, large and small — those nagging feelings that researchers have described as “an uncontrollable combination of negative thoughts and occasionally images linked to an uncertain outcome.”
Those feelings can often be reined in, though. A new report from Liberty Mutual Insurance highlights peer-reviewed research on worrying from the past 20 years and offers guidance for how people can cut down on worrisome thoughts.
It’s important to note that the worrying discussed in the report is a cognitive process and isn’t the same as anxiety, which is an emotional state of which worrying is a symptom. The new report cites studies that have found that the most common times of the day to worry were in the late evening or early afternoon. And contrary to the stereotypical assumption that older people fret more than the young, worry actually wanes as we age.
Not everyone worries about the same thing, though. Women generally worry about relationships and health, while men are more concerned with work. Single people fret about money. Young people worry about housing.
“Worry seems relative to experience. It’s understandable to feel more overwhelmed when facing new situation, such as becoming a first-time homebuyer or renter, expanding your family, or aging and moving for the first time in decades,” the report reads.
Although worrying might seem like just a part of life, it’s important to manage it before it becomes too overwhelming. Worry can be paralyzing and cultivate feelings of desperation, as well as lead to exhaustion and prevent people from enjoying their lives. Often one worry triggers another worry and can get out of hand.
The report’s co-authors offered tips for how people can soothe their worries and channel their thoughts productively:
1. Analyze your worries.
In order to solve whatever you’re worrying about, break it down into four parts: Define the problem, establish your goals, think of possible solutions and then apply the solutions you’ve come up with. The authors advise actually using a pen and paper to brainstorm solutions. If you get stuck, ask friends or search the Internet for help and advice. Stepping back from the worry and analyzing it in this way will empower you to actually conquer it.
2. Put worrying into your calendar.
Set aside a specific time of day to worry. If you’re at lunch with friends or in the middle of an important work assignment, an unnecessary worry can distract you and lessen your focus. In order to counteract this, schedule worrying time into your day so you can be more productive or enjoy what you’re doing at other times.
3. Learn to accept the unknown.
In thinking about what’s worrying you, recognize that a worry is just a worry. It’s a thought, not a fact. Stepping back and rationally thinking about what’s troubling you can help you realize that it’s just a mental event and it’s unproductive to focus on it. You might even laugh at what made you so concerned once you see it in proper perspective.
You also need to pay attention to your body and notice the physical effects of worrying. Soften your forehead, drop your shoulders and loosen your grip. Physically releasing tension can help your mind relax too.
4. Learn mindfulness.
If you’re scheduling in a time to worry, you should also set aside time just for yourself to be in the moment. Practicing mindfulness means focusing on your sensations and pushing out unnecessary thoughts. This mindfulness can be practiced in a number of different routine activities, such as taking a bath, walking or eating a meal. Taking time for yourself will replenish and reenergize you.