Manage Your Worry and Anxiety

Don't be paralyzed by the worry in your life. Here's how to banish negative thoughts from your mind

Break free from the pattern of worry that’s keeping you down

Are you a chronic worrier? You could be suffering from generalized anxiety disorder. Here’s how to de-stress

It’s normal to worry, but too much worrying can be, well, worrying – especially when it starts to interfere with normal functioning and your ability to relax. Chronic, excessive worrying – usually about things that are unlikely to happen – is better described as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

Anxiety is the body’s “fight or flight” reaction to a perceived threat. What distinguishes normal worrying from GAD are worries that are persistent, uncontrollable, extremely upsetting and even debilitating. This intense worrying produces physical effects, such as increased heart rate, faster breathing, tense muscles, light-headedness, sleeplessness and exhaustion, as well as digestive problems like constipation or diarrhea.

How to Manage Your Worry and Anxiety

Happily, there are ways to better manage worry and anxiety. Progressive muscle relaxation helps reduce muscle tension. The technique involves systematically tensing and then releasing different muscle groups in your body. As the body relaxes, the mind follows.

Deep breathing is another effective strategy. By breathing deeply from the belly, you can reverse the symptoms that accompany hyperventilation (like dizziness) and calm yourself down. Meditation also helps reduce anxiety, and so does “mindfulness,” the practice of being focused on the present moment instead of thinking about what might (but likely won’t) happen in the future.

A cognitive technique called thought-stopping can be helpful in reducing worrying (see sidebar). Some people find it helpful to postpone their worry. If an anxious thought enters your head, write it down on a piece of paper, and then postpone thinking about it until a dedicated, brief “worry period” during the day. This breaks the habit of dwelling on such thoughts and gives you a sense of control over your worries. If worry is disrupting your life, see your physician or a counsellor.

Relieve Your Worry in Four Steps

For some, worry can be like a broken record as the mind replays the same concerns over and over again. One way to tackle persistent worry is through a cognitive technique called thought stopping. Here’s how it works:

  1. When negative thoughts or worry begin to cause you stress, yell out the command “STOP” in your mind (if you’re alone, yell it out loud).
  2. Reject the negative thought or worry (e.g., “I will not let what that person said bother me.”).
  3. Replace the negative thought with a positive thought – something good about yourself, the day or the situation (e.g., “I know I can do that.”).
  4. Take a deep, relaxing breath – exhaling slowly. If negative thoughts persist, repeat steps one through four.

With practice, you’ll find that you’ll eventually have better control over unwanted thoughts.

Originally published in Wellness Matters, Canada Wide Media’s quarterly newsletter on health and wellness.