How to Give Yourself a Break From Worry
Worrying is a natural response to uncertainty or difficulties. Our minds are designed to help us figure things out, think through the consequences, and try to anticipate the worst case scenarios as a matter of survival.
The act of worrying, or thinking about a problem, can help prepare you for potential consequences and may help you avoid certain problems and other bad circumstances. It may even help you process certain experiences to give you better understanding and ideas for solutions to help you move forward.
However, your worrying can get out of hand and you can start to feel like you can’t control your worries. Your worries can dominate your thoughts and keep you up at night, make you feel tense, insecure, and on edge, make it hard to focus or concentrate, and leave you with little room for satisfaction and enjoyment in your life. It can be exhausting and can distract you from really being present in your own life.
Not only that, but worrying can sometimes further feed your worries – you can start worrying about your worrying – and you can feel powerless, fearful, and stuck.
So although excessive worrying can have negative impacts on your mental health and well-being, not all worrying is a bad thing necessarily, which is why it can be so hard to stop.
You can become quite attached to your worries, almost like an addiction, where you feel like you absolutely need to worry or think through all of the worst case scenarios or “what ifs” because you believe that if you don’t worry, something bad will happen, you’ll overlook something, or you’ll be caught off guard.
You may repeatedly turn to worrying to help you cope with uncertainty and the unknown because thinking through all of the potential outcomes can provide you with some temporary relief and a sense of control over a situation, but in reality you’re feeding a habit that can really take a toll on your health, your outlook, and your quality of life.
The good news is that once you recognize that your worries are more of a problem than a solution, and that you have a choice in how much time you spend worrying, then you can start taking steps to give yourself a break from worrying.
Imagine how much space would be cleared up in your mind if you spent less time worrying…
And how much better you could feel.
You’d be able to be more present in your life and your relationships. You’d have more clarity in your thinking. You’d be less tense and nervous and more able to appreciate the little things in life that bring you joy, satisfaction, and peace.
So how can I give myself a break from worrying?
Worrying is largely focused on the future or the past - thinking about what could happen and how you’ll respond, or thinking about something that you or someone else previously said or did. So when you are able to focus on the present moment, you are able to break free from a cycle of worry, even if it’s just for a few moments at a time.
One way to help focus in on the present moment is to practice mindfulness. To practice mindfulness means to devote time toward bringing your full attention into the present to observe what’s going on around you and within you. In other words, paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, responses, urges, and physical sensations as they are happening in that particular moment in time.
Here are some basic mindfulness practices that can help you give yourself a break from worry:
Recognize and acknowledge your worry.
When you are in the midst of a worry cycle, take a moment to notice it and acknowledge it. Stepping back and observing that you are worrying helps take some of the momentum and power out of the worry. Rather than letting it go on automatically and unchecked, you’re momentarily stopping the thought process by simply acknowledging what you’re doing.
Once you’re able to stop the worry-based thoughts for a moment, you open up the opportunity to make a choice about how you want to proceed – you can either get right back into worrying or you can choose to use your mind in another way.
Press pause and schedule “worry time.”
Instead of immediately going back to worrying, try telling yourself that you are going to “press pause” on your worries for a little bit and that you can resume worrying at a later time.
It’s unrealistic to expect that you’ll simply be able to completely stop worrying, so sometimes it can help to give yourself a designated time each day to devote to your worries. That way, whenever you notice a worry creeping into your thoughts, you can remind yourself that you don’t need to think about it right now and you can think about it later during your designated worry time.
TIP: When you’re designating a time for worrying, be sure to set a time limit so that you’re not just heading into endless worry, and try not to schedule the time too close to your bedtime, otherwise it might get you too riled up and make it hard to fall asleep.
Observe the present moment.
Take some time throughout the day to press pause on your worries and simply be present and observe. Take in your surroundings and do an inventory of what you are seeing, hearing, feeling, sensing, smelling, tasting, and touching. Notice what thoughts are coming up and try not to follow them, judge them, or resist them, just notice how they come and practice letting them go.
TIP: When a worry comes to mind, you can always write it down as a quick note to yourself to refer to later and then return to observing the present moment. Sometimes the act of writing it down allows you to release the worry and you don’t feel the need to spend more time thinking about it.
If you’re having a hard time staying focused on the present, a simple way to help ground you in the present moment is to focus on your breathing. You don’t necessarily need to control your breathing, just simply notice each breath going in and out - noticing the way your body moves with each breath, noticing the sensation of the air coming in and out of your nose. See if you can focus on your breathing, and just your breathing, for ten full breaths. Each time a worry starts to creep in, redirect your attention to your breathing.
(For more ways to focus on breathing, check out this post on breathing exercises.)
Pay attention to your needs and tend to them.
While you are focusing in on the present moment, check in with yourself and pay attention to your needs and desires. Ask yourself: what do I need right now? What will help? What do I need to hear? Then see if you can go about meeting your needs.
Oftentimes when you have been worrying, there can be a need to find relief, relax, unwind, decompress, or soothe yourself in some way. Sometimes you simply need to hear the words “it’s going to be alright” or “you’ll get through this” or something encouraging. Try doing activities that allow you to relax and unwind, or tell yourself what you need to hear to help you set aside your worries for now.
Do something mindfully.
In addition to making the time to do activities that allow you to relax and unwind and that offer you encouragement, you can also try doing regular everyday activities while focusing intently on each step and keeping your focus on the present moment. To maintain this focus on the present, sometimes it can help to narrate what you are doing in your head while you do it.
For example, when you’re doing laundry it could sound like: “I’m sorting the clothes into piles. I'm grabbing this shirt and noticing how it feels on my hands. I'm placing the shirt in this pile right here. Now I'm picking up these pants and thinking about which pile they should go in. I'm placing them in this pile over here..." Basically you’re looking for a way to help keep your attention focused on the present and prevent your mind from drifting off into worries about the future or the past.
Now, it’s important to note that your mind will wander when you start practicing mindfulness, so expect that it will happen, know that it’s natural, and keep practicing. Although staying focused on the present seems like a fairly simple task, you’re forming a new habit and breaking an old, long-standing one, which takes time and regular practice.
In order to break free from your worries and see the benefits of mindfulness you need to be consistent and persistent in your practice. Try to devote a little time each day to press pause on your worries and observe the present moment, even 5-10 minutes is a good starting point and you can build from there.
Training yourself to be more present and aware through mindfulness is a valuable skill to get you started on the path toward finding relief. The next step is to start using additional strategies to help you shift and challenge your thinking so that you can get a better handle on your worries and learn to ease your mind.