By Michael Tomek, Clinical Psychologist, Lakeside Psychology
It’s quite normal to worry and feel anxious from time-to-time, especially when we’re faced with situations like work insecurity, relationship problems, or health scares. However, some people constantly worry excessively about a range of things and find it extremely difficult to control their worries. As a result, they often describe having difficulty sleeping, fatigue, trouble concentrating, and feeling tense and restless. Because these people are constantly worrying about the future, they often find it hard to be in the present moment and enjoy the good things in life and often feel lacking in life or depressed. This is what is known as Generalised Anxiety.
Fortunately, there are some practical and effective things you can do to help you manage your worries and not let them get in the way of the good things in life.
1. Develop the discipline to relax
With some practice, you can learn to quieten the mind and release some tension from your body. Mindfulness is an excellent strategy to calm the mind by learning how to bring your attention to the present moment, instead of the future. Progressive muscle relaxation is another great way to relax the body by deliberately tensing and then releasing each muscle group in the body.
2. Stay in the moment
Worrying about the future will strip you from enjoying and appreciating the present moment. Here are some mindfulness strategies to help bring your attention back to the present moment: Throughout the day, stop and take ten deep breaths slowly, paying attention to the air flowing in and out of your nose. Pause for a moment and notice how your body is being supported by the chair you’re sitting on, and how the floor is pushing up against your feet. Have a look around you and notice a few things you previously hadn’t paid attention to.
3. Increase your tolerance to uncertainty
Learn to accept uncertainty as an inevitable part of life, rather than striving to be certain about everything. Remember that worrying about the future doesn’t really prevent the bad things from happening. So next time you find yourself feeling uneasy or anxious because you don’t have all the details, use that moment to pause, relax yourself and accept uncertainty. With some practice, you’ll find yourself tolerating uncertainty and worrying less.
4. Postpone your worries
Worries can intrude on your day, interfering with your ability to deal with your daily tasks. You can manage this by setting up a “worry time” at a specific time of the day (e.g. 7pm each night) and postponing your worry to that time. Each time a worry comes to mind throughout the day, write it down and tell yourself that you will be in a better position to deal with the worry during worry time. When it comes to worry time, sit down and allow yourself to think about your worries.
5. Examine your beliefs about worry
“I have no control over my worrying”, “Worrying helps me prevent bad things from happening”. These are just some of the beliefs that people with generalised anxiety have about their worries. Have a think about your beliefs about worry and examine whether they’re accurate. For example, by postponing your worries you will learn that you can control your worries. Ask yourself whether worrying really does prevent bad things from happening?
6. Slowly confront some of the worries and topics you have avoided
Many people with generalised anxiety try to stop themselves from thinking certain worries. Unfortunately, this only makes those thoughts stronger and leaves you feeling unable to handle those thoughts. Once you learn the strategies above, you’re then in the best position to begin confronting the worries you have avoided. List the worries, topics and activities you have avoided and slowly work your way through them. You can expect to feel anxious and uncomfortable at first, however over time you will learn that you can cope with your worries and think about unpleasant things without it leading to feeling distressed.
7. Get back into life
Make a list of the fun things you’ve missed out on recently because you’ve been caught up in your worries and uncertainty about the future. Then begin scheduling time specifically to do the things you once enjoyed. If you notice yourself worrying during the activity remember – you can postpone your worries to a more appropriate time, then bring your attention to what you were doing (be in the present moment).
Seek professional help
There are some great free resources for people with generalised anxiety at the following link: www.cci.health.wa.gov.au. If you continue to have difficulty managing your worries, it might help to get some more targeted treatment from an experienced professional. Speak to your doctor or contact us for more help.