You’re dreading the next few days.
You’ve got too much to do and not enough time to do it; it wouldn’t be so bad at work if you didn’t get so many interruptions and your boss was a bit more reasonable. On top of that, your mom hasn’t yet recovered from her operation and needs a lot of support, while your son is having a tough time studying for his admission test.
You’re doing your best to help everyone around you, but you’re being pulled in different directions and feel permanently exhausted. You’re racked with worry and can’t seem to come up for air.
The key to dealing with stress and worry is to stop your mind from running riot and then change the way you think about the problems in your life.
The more you worry about something the worse it gets. By going over the same problem again and again, you only send yourself down in an ever decreasing spiral. So, if you find that you’re going round and round in circles, say to yourself, stop; if it helps, visualize a great big STOP sign in the front of your mind.
Then take a few long….slow…deep breaths which help to reduce your level of anxiety.
At this point, it’s no good simply saying to yourself, right, I’m not going to think about this problem anymore, because your mind will soon start worrying again unless you fill it with something else. It’s a bit like me saying, you can think about anything you like except a tiger with purple stripes and then all you can think about is a tiger with purple stripes.
So you have to consciously focus your mind on something else; and when you do, choose something that is totally absorbing. It may be a craft you enjoy, a sport you play, or a movie you’ve been meaning to watch, but whatever you choose, make sure it’s something you really have to concentrate on so that it stops your mind from wandering back to the problem. The great advantage with this first step is that it gives you a much needed break from the constant worry.
The next step is to change the way you think about the problems in your life.
First of all, realize that you don’t actually have to dwell on your worries all the time. Now, you may say that you’re a born worrier and you can’t change the way you are, but that’s not actually true, it really is possible to change the way your think and feel, so just be open to that possibility.
Next, don’t assume that disaster will strike and you will be faced with the worst case scenario. This could happen, but is probably unlikely. Think back over your life and be honest with yourself about the number of times you worried about things that never actually happened.
Instead, think about what you can do to improve the situation right now. At this point, you need to distinguish between the things you have control over and the things where you don’t. For instance, you don’t have control over your mother’s health, nor sadly, can you change it, so focus on what you can do to ease the situation and relieve your worry. Similarly, there’s nothing you can do about working for a difficult boss, but you do have a choice about how you respond to his – or her – unreasonable demands.
Drawing a distinction between what you can and cannot control – and therefore influence – often provides relief from the overwhelming worry. When you acknowledge there’s nothing you can do to change a set of circumstances, it frees up your mind, so that you can focus instead on how best to deal with it all.
So, as you start to think about what you can do to improve the situation, concentrate on the things you can influence. It can often help to write down the problem, so you have a clear understanding of the most important issues. And if possible, talk it through with someone you trust, because the conversation can lead to ideas that you might not otherwise have thought about.
If the problem has several possible outcomes, then work through each one in turn and plan what you can do in each case. Thinking things through in advance provides great relief, because you know you’re prepared for each eventuality.
And finally, when you’ve decided on what you can do to improve the situation, put your idea into practice, because the process of actually doing something eases your stress and worry.