1. Know What Triggers You
It is often the case that a specific topic or situation triggers anxiety, worries and repetitive thoughts. Learn what your buttons are to be able to avoid them. Plus, the very awareness of a triggering situation can make you more capable at controlling yourself.
A good exercise is to record or notice any events, situations or even people that make you worry. I, for one, know that I get very anxious when I have an unfinished project at home or at work, but the things that make you worry can be anything ranging from the news to the neighbors’ dog constantly barking.
Now that you have a more-or-less full list of potential triggers, it’s time to replace them with a positive alternative that will help you relax. For example, if you can’t fall asleep at night, turn on some calming music or watch TV for a few minutes. Switching from one task to another will help you cope with the stressful situation instead of thinking yourself into insanity.
2. Externalize the Things That Bother You
People who worry a lot tend to internalize the things that bother them by overthinking. This thinking process sometimes seems endless, and it is usually very difficult to stop.
To be able to break from the endless chain of thoughts, it can be useful to distance yourself from them. Imagine your thoughts and worries floating away from from you like clouds, or leaves on a stream.
3. Distract Yourself With Something Funny
Who said distractions can’t be useful? When you realize you’re beginning to worry, imagine something funny that could distract you from the worrisome idea. A famous psychological study tackling the subject of thought suppression showed that participants persist thinking about a specific image until they’re given an alternative.
In that study, participants were instructed NOT to think about a white bear, and guess what? It resulted in them not being able to think about anything else but the white bear, until they were given an alternative. I suggest thinking about this monkey with a funny haircut eating a banana, but the image you choose is up to you.
Every time you catch yourself worrying, just think about this monkey. Chances are, it will distract you from your ruminations.
4. Ask Yourself: “Is Worrying Useful in the Given Situation?”
Asking yourself this question can be a way for you to think critically about your own behavior. By “useful” we mean whether or not you can see any productivity in worrying: have you found any practical solutions to the problem at hand while worrying? Did the ruminations let you see the situation in a more positive light?
If not, then the worrying is not worth all that time and effort you are spending on it. In fact, in most cases, it works the other way around: instead of feeling relieved after thinking about a problem and solving it, you feel exhausted, angry, and depressed. This means that worrying will get you nowhere.
5. Be Mindful of Your Thoughts
We have written about mindfulness meditation and other mindfulness practices before, and many psychologists agree that this method is quite useful for worriers, too. Learn to interrupt your ruminations by having a short mindfulness practice. To do this, close your eyes and check in with your body: do you have any spot that carries a lot of tension or even pain?
Imagine that point softening and the tension releasing as you start breathing more deeply. Associate your worries and ruminations with that spot. and imagine it disappearing as you breathe into that area.
6. Designate a “Worry Space”
It may sound silly at first, but our brains often associate mental states and memories with a specific location. You can take advantage of this feature by reserving only 1 place in your home (or outside) for worrying. This can be a worry bench in a park, for example.
At first, allow yourself to worry for 10-15 minutes in this spot, and then leave and don’t allow yourself to worry anywhere else. Repeat this several times, and soon, you will associate this spot with the process of worrying, which will ultimately let you control how often and how much you worry.
7. Learn To Stop Your Thoughts
When you see that no other method is helping you get out of your head, it may be necessary to resort to thought-stopping. The idea is to do anything to switch to another, less stressful topic. For some people, visualizing a stop or detour street sign is enough to direct them to a new topic.
Others need more physical manifestations, like shouting out “Stop!”, or even snapping themselves with an elastic band wrapped around their wrist when they begin ruminating. Choose the method that works best for you. In the end, all of these tricks and methods can and should be customized to suit your needs and habits.