July 21, 2012

6 Ways to Stop Worrying About the Small Stuff

As much as worry, fear and anxiety have a way of making us believe we have been brought to our knees, much of the worry, fear and anxiety we feel is ultimately not really about life changing, catastrophic things but rather…the small stuff.  It’s not to say that life doesn’t have a way of hurling incredibly challenging fast balls at us that can emotionally knock us over but for the sake of this discussion let’s stay focused on how to stay emotionally regulated and calm during the other times…when we feel bowled over emotionally by “the small stuff.”

The thing about worry, fear and anxiety is that they have a way of tricking people into believing the world is about to end.  Emotionally, it can feel that way!  It’s no wonder considering the way the sense of self can get tied up into it all; particularly in perceived acceptance (or lack of) by others and perceived competence (or lack of).  This is why the “small stuff” can resonate so deeply like a threat to our very survival!

Can you relate to any of the following examples?

“I’m worried about meeting this group of respectable people in my field.  What if I don’t measure up?”
“I’m worried about my blind date tonight.  What if he/she doesn’t like me?”
“I’m worried about my presentation at work tomorrow.  What if I fall apart?”
“I’m worried that my husband/wife won’t like this special meal I cooked for our anniversary.  What if he/she is disappointed?

The problem with worry, if allowed to consume you, can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Here are 6 ways to stop worrying about the small stuff:

1. Stop getting ahead of yourself.  If you live as if the future has already happened you are having an emotional reaction (worry) to something that hasn’t happened yet.  If you’re intensely worried, your flight-or-flight system may be activated.  Focus on an object in the room with you.  Notice it in a way you never have before to help you stay present and mindful.  Breathe slowly.

2. Put your hand over your heart.  Oxytocin is an antidote to the stress hormone, cortisol.  It can be released by placing your hand over your heart, closing your eyes and imagining someone you feel completely safe with.  A beloved pet will work too.  As you remember feeling loved, sit with this feeling for at least 30 seconds.

3. Practice self acceptance.  Because worry can revolve around a fractured sense of self, it’s important to work on shifting your self concept from negative to positive.  A daily affirmation like, “I am ok” can help integrate this belief into your heart and mind.

4. Reframe your worry.  Remember that it’s your perception that dictates your worry.    You are the only one who can assign meaning to things.  So if you assign worry to a lot of things try to practice reframing it to something more productive.

5. Find a trusted sounding board.  A friend can be called upon to help you clarify your thinking.  Get someone on your team, explain what you’re working on and how they can help.  When you find yourself worrying, call on them to help you process.

6. Identify what keeps you stuck – and work on it.  If you’ve tried the above suggestions and are not finding relief, seek out a therapist to help uncover what’s blocking you.  “Worriers” usually have clues to this behavior in their families of origin.  There’s probably good reason you worry but your goal is to be freed from the ties of unneccesary worry.

Getting a handle on excessive worry over relatively small things (in the big picture of life) will not only lead to improved resilience but over-all better emotional health.

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