When Worry Takes Hold – Part 2

In last month’s Listening Ear, I took an in-depth look at worry, a topic which has been a lifelong ‘project’ for me. In this article, I’d like to talk about ways of working with worry so that it doesn’t overwhelm.

Challenge Worry by “Acting Opposite to” it

Challenging worry — or as it is said in Dialectial Behaviour Therapy, acting opposite to — is a great way of testing out stories we have created in our minds about worry. If, for example, there is a worry about being ignored at a party, one could deliberately go up to people that appear friendly and start a conversation, to see if our fears are true. Of course, this is not always easy but can be a great way of challenging fear through changes in our behaviour.

Is there another need that I could meet in a way other than worrying?

Is there a practical solution or solutions that could be employed? If for example, a person is worried about getting enough sleep, options could include preparing for bed earlier, taking care of some morning activities in the evening to allow more time for sleep, engaging in soothing activities prior to bed, or using sleep hygiene strategies that could help promote sleep, particularly in an era where screen time is king.

Mindful awareness

Being aware that worry is present, without judging the worry or yourself, can help us get perspective. When we’re in the thick of worry, not even aware that our worry habit is in overdrive, or worse, not even conscious that we are even worrying at all,we are powerless to do much about it.

Mindful Non-judementalism

We can be aware of our worry without judging it. Judging only adds to our distress. I sometimes suggest to my clients to liken the non-judgemental mind to a hockey play-by-play announcer, simply describing what we see, without shifting to “colour commentator.”

Letting Go

I’m so passionate about this one I even wrote an article about it. Worry thoughts are like clouds scuttling across the sky. The trick is to allow them just to pass on by naturally. When we grab, or hold on to them, they have no substance.

Getting it Out and then Out Of Your Space

When worry seems overwhelming, sometimes it’s time to get ultra-practical. Many people attest to the power of “getting it out”, externalizing their worry thoughts in some way, which can also help us to gain perspective. There can be a number of ways to approach this, depending on your personality. A first step might be writing your worries down. Some people like to write a detailed account, others a series of drawings, still others, profane writing if that seems best. My only suggestion would be to “unscript” yourself, writing exactly what you feel, letting go of there being a “right” or “wrong” way to write. Just writing. If you can’t stand to see your worries in ‘black and white,’ writing with a pen which has lost its ink may do the trick. And for others, typing feels better. There are no rules here.

Next, it can be helpful to dispose of the worry documentation somehow so it is not polluting your space. Ideas that clients have used have included shredding the paper they were using, burning it in a fireplace or taking it to an outside garbage or recycling box.

“Un-Mentalizing” Through Activity

AKA ‘getting out of your head.’ I love exercise and activity for for helping to achieve this. Find what works for you. For some, it’s something more traditional like going to the gym, for others, it could be climbing the stairs in their apartment building, for still others, yoga. To me, it’s best not to quibble too much about finding the ideal activity; rather, the act of getting moving, no matter how, is what’s important.

Nurturing A Spiritual Life

While not for everyone, meditation, yoga, religious practice, walks in nature, etc. can be helpful, depending on what appeals most.

Seek Support, Avoid Excessive Reassurance

As human beings, we have an innate need for support and connection, both of which can help calm worry thoughts. When requests for support are taken to the extreme, however, as in the desire for excessive reassurance, this never satisfies worry long-term as confidence is not built in this context.

Do Any Practical Things That Need Doing

Take care of what you can, not what you can’t.