More than 40 percent of us wrestle with worry on a daily basis. To the rescue: Experts share ways to stop what-ifs from spinning out of control.
Take “vitamin B3.”
Nope, that’s not the supplement, but an emotional health booster. “B3 is ‘Better But Believable,’ as in, when you have a negative thought, tell yourself something positive but plausible,” says psychologist Jennifer Abel, PhD. “So, if you’re planning a trip and are afraid to fly, rather than say something vague like, ‘It’s going to be okay,’ combat fear with fact, such as, ‘More than 275,000 people safely go through the Atlanta airport in a single day.’” This wakes up your rational mind, quelling worry.
Cue decision confidence.
Anxiety curbs the ability to make decisions, as we worry about uncertain outcomes, says anxiety expert Alice Boyes, PhD. “Just minimize decisions until you don’t feel inhibited to act,” she urges. “Contributing $100 to your savings per paycheck may be too scary, so you might set up $50 payments. Practicing with small decisions shows you that they often turn out well.”
End nightly angst.
Worries spiral when we’re about to go to sleep, in part because of how we feel physically in bed, says Abel. “It’s dark, we’re lying down, even wearing less makes us feel exposed — all of this tells our brain that we’re vulnerable, worsening worries.” To turn your room into a fret-free zone, keep a bedside journal and jot down one action step to take the next day. “Studies show anxious people don’t problem-solve enough — they have the skills but they feel stuck.” Having a plan allays that anxiety.
Open a “worry window.”
“We keep worrying in circles because we think it’ll help us gain insight, when all it does is feed anxiety,” says psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, who recommends scheduling a “worry window” to curb intrusive thoughts during the day. “Pinpoint a half hour at, say, 7 p.m., to worry. This way, you can say, ‘I’ll worry about that later.’ Often, when ‘later’ comes, you won’t feel like worrying.”
Track anxiety loops.
Noticing the patterns behind our anxiety can help us stop it in its tracks, says Lyubomirsky, who suggests jotting down when, where and even around whom your tension ratchets up over the course of a few days. You may be surprised what you learn: “People often think they’re most tense at work, but being busy can be good for anxiety, while undemanding activities like watching TV can lead to rumination.” Identifying “trouble spots” helps you come up with solutions: For example, if you’re more anxious in the evening, consider a “prime time” mindfulness practice.
Go up, up, up.
The antidote to a downward anxiety spiral? An upward spiral. To spark momentum, tap the mother of all positive emotions: gratitude. Says Lyubomirsky, “What you’re paying attention to determines what you’re feeling. So focus on gratitude by doing something concrete, like writing a letter of thanks to a friend. It’ll trigger a cascade of positive emotions, making you feel more productive, resilient, and confident.”
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.