On my refrigerator is a magnet that a former coworker gave me on my last day at that job. It says, “Worry is like a rocking chair. It’ll give you something to do but it won’t get you anywhere.” She knew my struggle with worry and anxiety and I have applied the words of this proverb at many times in my life when I was wondering how to stop worrying.
I am not a licensed therapist or mental health professional. If you are suffering and need treatment please seek the help of a professional. This post may contain affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
I picture telling a friend I’m going to the beach, and when they ask how I’m traveling, I answer, “by rocking chair.” Can you imagine the look of dismay? Rocking chairs just can’t get us to a new destination.
What’s the difference between worry and anxiety?
Before we talk about how to stop worrying, let’s see what makes it unique from anxiety. My first instinct when mulling over this question was that when I worry, it tends to be in my thoughts, whereas my anxiety is a full body feeling. Does that make sense? Anxiety disorders trigger the tight chested, racing thoughts, overwhelmed feeling throughout your body over an extended time. Worry, for me, is more cerebral.
It’s like when you have chewing gum but nowhere to spit it out. After a while it gets really unpleasant and you really want to stop, but you probably aren’t going to have a panic attack because of it. If you experience recurrence of worry it could be a symptom of an anxiety disorder. Harvard has an excellent article about symptoms to see a doctor or therapist for. Read my article How to Find A Therapist if you want to find a professional to talk about it with!
I’m a chronic worrier, but it’s not anxiety. Let’s talk about how to stop worrying.
There are several approaches we can take to cope with a habit of worrying. I highly recommend reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I found his writings on the present moment to be super grounding!
Today, though, I want to talk about another tactic. The first step I want you to take is to write in a journal when you find yourself in a spiral of worrying. Journaling is a very useful tool because it takes our abstract thoughts and gets them down in black and white! I recommend tracking your worrying thoughts for a couple weeks so you can find any patterns or trends as far as topics, time of day, triggers, etc.
The data is in
Once you have the data, look it over and notice what sorts of things you worry about. Is it a lot of the same? Or are there a variety of items? Either way, I bet I can help you group them into just TWO categories. Everyone’s worries can be divided up this way. Are you ready?
Group 1: Things you have control over
Group 2: Things you don’t have control over
Seriously though, aren’t you impressed that I could divide them up without even knowing what you had on your list? When I learned this exercise from my therapist, I didn’t see it coming! No matter what in the world you worry about, it can literally be divided up into these two categories.
Now, grab your journal and draw two big circles. Label one for each group and then divide up & write in your notes from the last couple weeks. Don’t get into your head about it, go with your initial reaction. This should just take a couple minutes. All set? Let’s dig deeper!
How to Stop worrying About Things You Have Control Over
These are some things we worry about that we can actually problem solve and have a good chance to avoid any problems. For example, if I’m worried about being late for a big interview, I can set alarms to make sure I leave in time to be 20 minutes early. Bam! With solid planning I removed the worry and ensured that I’ll arrive relaxed and with time to prep.
See how it is entirely possible that you can take steps to reduce the risk? This means that you have influence – and don’t have to just spin your wheels in worry. It’s time to make a plan. Find something in your “control over” circle that hasn’t happened yet. Write it out on a page. Now write 3-4 things you can do to avoid the negative outcome.
Now you might stop me here and say, “Well, what if I do all those things and a terrible car wreck happens and closes down the road and I’m still late!” We’ll talk about things out of our control next, but the important thing to remember for Circle #1 is that we take care of any factors that we can.
How to Stop Worrying about Things You Have No Control over
Stay with me in this section, because this is the icky sticky one. These are the things that keep us up late at night, unable to sleep. “What if I lose my job? What if someone I love gets hurt? What if, what if?” These are things we really have no control over. You can be a stellar employee and still have to deal with downsizing. It’s a completely legitimate concern. But what good will it do for you to worry about it for months and it never actually materializes? Or even if it does? Spoiler alert: it does no good. Zip. Zilch, Nada. You can’t fix anything through the worry.
Writing it down works!
That’s why writing it down and then categorizing it can make such a difference in your quest to discover how to stop worrying. You are basically saying, “I see you brain! You’re so imaginative! We’ve cataloged this, you can stop obsessing over it now.” It probably won’t help the first time you try, but strengthen your brain muscle to acknowledge and then release, and you will feel so much more peaceful. Sometimes I literally picture setting the thought down on a table.
Oh and other people fall into this category, by the way. If you are worrying that your weird relative will say something weird at Thanksgiving Dinner in front of your new partner, well, that’s something you can’t control. Put it into Circle #2. Now if you want to, you can add “My reaction when my weird relative says something weird,” because that is solidly within your power to change.
Don’t hang on to it…let it go!
When you can make like Elsa and “Let it go! Let it go!” you will find freedom. Let’s recap the steps for how to stop worrying:
- Write down what’s bothering you. Journaling is such a fantastic way to acknowledge your thoughts and be able to work with them later.
- Divide your list of worries between Group #1: Things I can control & Group #2: Things I can’t control. Remember, other people go in Group #2!
- Look over the items in group #1 and choose ones that are concerns about the future. Journal out a plan of attack, with action items you can take to feel good about the outcome.
- Ah, group #2. We need to let you go, to fly free with the wind. Visualize these worries being set down, or flying away in the wind, or write them down and rip it up. Whichever way speaks to you, let them go! This will take some practice, but it is super freeing when you get there!
Use this FREE printable to work through these steps, no email needed!
It’s time to hop down off the worry rocking chair and get yourself a new destination. A destination of increased peace & tranquility – and hopefully more sleep too! You’ve got this!!