Whether it's work, the kids or if your LBD will make you stand out like a sore thumb at the office party, the majority of us end up worrying, well, worryingly often. This week, we've roped in the experts for advice on how to break the cycle and deal with excessive worrying. Here's what we found out...
Worry and thought processes
As expert psychologist Elaine Slater explains: "Worry is a cycle of negative and relatively uncontrollable self-perpetuating thoughts and images, brought about in response to a perceived stressful situation that is fuelled by analysis, imagination and often exaggeration. Chronic worrying is at the core of life-altering problems such as anxiety, depression and addiction."
For this reason, she advises you never attempt to manage your worry with pills, alcohol, substance abuse or emotional eating or avoidance.
"Talk about your worries with a counsellor, friends or family," advises Elaine, "talking about it can often lead to finding a solution. As people who naturally try to supress their unwanted thoughts end up being more distressed by them, trying a different strategy - such as acceptance - can often help you overcome and even thrive during times of uncertainty."
"Meditation lowers anxiety levels and has a positive affect on the parts of the brain responsible for emotions, thinking and worrying, while writing your worries down on paper is a good way of emptying your mind of your fears. Physical activities keep your body busy and mind distracted, and occupying your mind by recalling vivid and pleasant memories often helps keep it away from worry."
In times of excessive worry, Elaine recommends you stop, recognise and accept that you are feeling worried. Slow and deep 'belly' breathing activates the vagus nerve which helps counter the stress response triggered by worry and slows down the tirade of reactions in the body. Focusing on the external world rather than your internal feelings of discomfort for ten minutes can also help, and repeating positive affirmations such as 'All is well' or 'I am safe and calm' help to bring the body back to a relaxed state.
In order to prevent excessive worrying, Elaine suggests you try retraining your brain by following these four simple steps:
1) Identify the object of worry
2) Come up with a time and place to think about that worry
3) If you catch yourself worrying at a time other than your designated worry time, make a point of thinking about something else
4) Use your worry time productively by thinking of solutions to your worries
Hypnotherapy and NLP
As bidding your worries farewell is all about bypassing the so called ‘noise’ of everyday living to focus on the subconscious, techniques like hypnotherapy and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) can often prove very effective. Our go-to-guy is Terrence the Teacher , a clinical hypnotherapist who combines hypnosis and NLP in sessions tailor-made to suit each and every client he helps.
The first thing to do when trying to stop yourself worrying, says Terrence, is to relax. Just telling a person to relax is never enough as, struggling to reach this state already, your brain will be unsure of what to aim for. For this reason, an initial hypnotherapy session will always involve the hypnotherapist getting you to a stage where you feel completely at ease.
Asking you to lay down, speaking slowly and repeating the word ‘Relax’ are all techniques used during a session, the aim of which is to get the worried client to a certain ‘state’. This state changes the brain waves, taking you to a place very similar to that which is experienced during sleep, where the mind and body can relax. After you have entered into this state, Terrence explains, the hypnotherapist will then ask you to focus on certain areas of your body, such as your feet, moving your awareness and letting go of all tension.
Positive suggestions made during the session, such as ‘When you wake up you will remain relaxed’, allow the brain in its awakened state to make different connections between potential stressors and how to react to them. As you learn faster and remember more while in a hypnotic state, suggestions made during the session are far more likely to be effective once you wake up and return to reality.
“Hypnotherapy fundamentally aims to quieten the mind”, Terrence explains, “As thoughts are basically neurons firing away in a part of the brain which then reacts by effecting the body, you need to quieten these neurons in order to quieten your mind.”
“After the initial session, people are usually surprised by the fact they actually managed to relax fully. This ‘proof of success’ makes it much easier to then go to the client and say ‘You can achieve this yourself’. One tool they can use to do this is self hypnosis.”
Self hypnosis is a quick and simple technique you can employ at home to relax the body and stop the mind from worrying. Terrence explains that exact techniques can vary depending on the client, but that the general idea is to close your eyes and think of things that will cause you to relax, allowing your subconscious to take you there.
If you are artistic or creatively minded, Terrence recommends thinking of a beautiful painting or image, allowing the colours, tone and texture to transport you to a place of subconscious relaxation. If you respond better in academic situations, he recommends counting down from ten to one, allowing yourself to sink further into the relaxed state with every number you pass until you reach the bottom and all tension has been released.
NLP and Anchoring
The idea behind anchoring, Terrence explains, is to take the worried person back to a point of success. It works by taking an anchor from a calm situation (e.g. a specific scent) and allowing it to take you back to that place during a stressful one. By replicating a scent or action you associate with being calm, the body and mind will subconsciously try to get you back to the same state - a change which can happen very quickly.
Anchoring is a quick and easy way of calming yourself down during a worry cycle, as long as the anchor and the connected feeling remain strong. To give it a go at home, Terrence recommends trying out the following three steps:
1) Start by doing what relaxes you the most - go for a walk, listen to a song or put on your favourite film
2) While you do this, find an area on your body to tap, press or stroke - whatever feels most natural to you
3) Practice the technique over time until the anchor becomes strong. When you start to worry, repeat your trigger and allow your subconscious to take your body back to a more relaxed state
Another thing you can do to ease excessive worrying is to look internally at how you breathe. Breathing expert and founder of Just Breathe Caroline Kremer , says the most important thing to do during times of worry is to focus your energy on something you can control, such as your breathing.
“Where focus goes energy flows,” Caroline explains, “So the most beneficial thing is to change the focus. This can be done by bringing yourself back to the present moment - to be in the now. One way of doing this is to focus on your breathing.”
“It is good to get a sense of how the body and breathing feel when you are in a sense of worry. You can ask yourself a series of simple questions, such as Where do I feel worry in my body? Does my breathing feel fast? Slow? Deep? Which areas move when I breathe? Do I like this feeling of breathing? This in itself will immediately take you to the present moment.”
To regain this necessary sense of being in the now, Caroline recommends a simple breathing exercise you can try in the comfort of your own home.
“What the following breath pattern exercise is designed to do,” Caroline explains, “is to lengthen and slow the breathing pattern. This will stimulate the rest and digestive aspect of the nervous system and the opposite of the stress mode where the body often goes when worrying. It lowers the heart rate and blood pressure and allows a sense of calm.”
“Lie down on the bed or floor with your arms comfortably by your sides and your palms facing upwards. If your head is tipping too far back, place a folded towel or thin cushion under it to bring it level. Then follow these simple steps…
1) Take a normal breath in through the nose
2) When you exhale, make an ‘S’ sound that is slow, strong and consistent
3) When you get to what feels like the bottom of the breath, try going on a little longer - this begins to tighten the throat and draw in the abdominal muscles and pelvis
4) Pause for a second
5) Let go and breathe. Give the body permission to let the breath come in naturally and fully, starting at the abdomen and filling the lungs all the way up so you feel the movement in your throat. Exhale.
6) Allowing the body to breathe for itself, rest in between breath patterns for a couple of minutes until the breath has settled
7) Consider the questions above - does it still feel the same?
8) Repeat 5 more times - this should take you about 10 minutes
9) Finish the exercise with a glass of water to replenish the moisture lost through respiration”
So, the next time you go into a flap over a job interview or that flight you're terrified to take, why not stop, take five minutes and try one of the above techniques to see if you can wave your worries a not-so-fond farewell. You know what they say glossies, it doesn't hurt to try.