Your Health

Managing your worries

Ten tips to overcome the pressures of life

Operational Stress Injury Clinic team members, from left: Marnie Smith, Stan Yaren, Chris Enns, Debbie Whitney, Amber Gilberto, David Podnar and Kristjan Sigurdson.

BY KAREN L. KYLIUK
Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, March / April 2015

What if I get sick? What if I can't pay the rent? What if my son doesn't graduate?

What if . . .

We all worry from time to time, whether it's about the well-being of our children, finances, or even troubling global situations that we are exposed to, such as plane crashes or acts of violence.

Worrying is driven by the need to make sure everything will be okay amidst uncertainty. Worry is normal, it can serve a purpose. Worry helps us to reflect, problem-solve, and even plan ahead for potential threats or issues that may come up.

But when worrying is dialed up too high, it can become a habit of thinking that robs us of our peace of mind. When worry interferes with your daily activities or your ability to enjoy everyday moments, then you may want to consider some strategies to keep worrying in check.

Studies have indicated that one in 10 people experience uncontrollable worry to the point of feeling distressed. Excessive worry can negatively impact our overall health and is connected to adverse stress reactions such as sleep disruptions, digestive problems, and anxiety.

Have you ever hit the pillow after a busy day only to find that your mind won't stop racing? Do your thoughts obsess over all the things left undone, that might happen, and every possible problem, leaving you tossing and turning and unable to rest? This is another common worry habit. There are ways to minimize this mental exhaustion and to refuel throughout your day so that unwinding at bedtime will come with more ease.

Managing worry and reducing worry habits are possible, and that can be reassuring when we feel overwhelmed. Here are ten tips on how to overcome worry:

Take 5

Take five-minute breaks throughout your day, whether it is for a vigorous walk, taking the stairs at the office, or finding a quiet place to sit down and take a few deep breaths. This helps to reduce cortisol levels, a stress hormone that is associated with worry and anxiety. Mini-breaks allow you to reset your thoughts and regain a sense of calm.

Talk it out

Talk with friends, family, and colleagues about your worries rather than brooding silently. You may find you are not alone and that you share common concerns. You may also find group solutions to dealing with real concerns. Connecting with people results in positive feelings; your social supports can act as a sounding board to help you evaluate whether or not what you are worrying about is worth your attention.

Go with the flow

Expect change and accept uncertainty. This is a healthy attitude to adopt. Embracing change also builds resiliency so you can recover more quickly when faced with life challenges or disappointments.

Revive your drive

There are several ways to get grounded throughout your day: breathe deeply for five minutes while clearing your mind of all thoughts, journalling, listening to music, or activities such as yoga or connecting with nature. This helps to restore your energy, improve your focus, and regain a sense of control.

Let it go

Sometimes expectations feed into worry. Do you want and expect to be perfect in all you do? This is not realistic or obtainable so try to replace this perception with," I did my best today with what I had to give," or "That is good enough." Keeping expectations in line with reality allows us to perform to our fullest potential each and every day.

Make a worry list

Spend approximately 10 minutes every day writing down all your worries, every single one. Then put the list away to review at a scheduled time later in the day. This helps to change the habit of constant worrying or adding "what ifs" and re-trains your mind to manage the worry rather than being consumed by it.

Review your worry list

At a scheduled time, review your worry list in a peaceful manner, maybe with a cup of tea while listening to music.

Ask yourself, "What worries need to be addressed immediately?" Priortize them. "What worries are not important anymore?" Cross them off your list. "What worries or fears from the day are now unfounded?" Cross them off your list, too. This helps you to see what to focus on, what you have control over, and what you can let go.

Distract yourself

To prevent your mind from overplaying the worry list, try using simple distractions like saying "stop" to yourself, or a gesture such as clapping, snapping an elastic band, or standing and stretching. Catching worry thoughts as soon as they are noticed is the key. This helps to refocus your attention and may also break the pattern of constant worry habits.

Make a plan

Challenge your worries, big or small, and make a realistic plan to address any problems that are of great concern to you. Sometimes talking to a counsellor to explore solutions and develop problemsolving skills may be a positive step towards managing worry. The ultimate goal is to realize you have the power to decide what you focus your thoughts on and how you will overcome any challenges that you are faced with.

Unwind

Make time at the end of your day to relax and engage in soothing and pleasurable activities. This will recharge and refuel your energy stores and support the shift from a busy day to a peaceful evening.

It may take some time to embrace new behaviours and replace old worry habits. Be patient with yourself and experiment to see what works for you. View worry as temporary and a blip in your day. The goal is to fit worry into the rest of your life. When we accept uncertainty in life and understand that we cannot control everything around us, then we give worry less space in our thoughts. One inspirational quote sums up nicely what we can strive towards: "Stop worrying today about things that may or may not happen, instead focus on the joy of today that is lived and real." So the next time you find yourself worrying, make a conscious effort to put worry in its place so you don't miss out on life's precious moments today.

Karen L. Kyliuk is a mental health resource and education facilitator with the Winnipeg Health Region.

Wave: March / April 2015

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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