How to deal with worry thoughts
“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” ( Marie Curie)
“Action is a great restorer and builder of confidence. Inaction is not only the result, but the cause, of fear. Perhaps the action you take will be successful; perhaps different action or adjustments will have to follow. But any action is better than no action at all.” ( Norman Vincent Peale)
- Tolerate the feeling of discomfort produced by the feeling of doubt.
- Practice learning to trust yourself that you will respond to events with the information you have at the time.
- Do not compare with others: this is distracting and gives inaccurate information. We compare what we see in others, with how we feel. However, we do not have the full picture of how others are feeling, and we need to focus on the current moment to find a solution to
the task at hand.
- Reframe, change perspective: instead, focus on the task at hand and think what one thing you can do to make progress.
Write down some of the worry thoughts that you have had recently. Then ask yourself: “Is this a specific problem you are dealing with now? If so, what can you do to change something now?”
- Tolerate the uncertainty: Imagine you are going into a swimming pool, you do this slowly, at first yo may feel discomfort as the water is colder than you expected. You don’t want to feel uncomfortable, but you do want to swim for a while. If you go in slowly your body adjusts
to the temperature, and the discomfort disappears. Think of your worry thoughts in the same way, at first they are uncomfortable, as you let them be without trying to stop them, and without taking the content literally. Eventually, you will gradually get used to them and
the sense of danger will dissipate even if you still feel uncomfortable.
- Focus on taking action: consider what one small step you can take to have a sense of achievement (despite feeling uncomfortable with the worry thoughts). For example, you notice that the worry thoughts are about failing to complete the essay by the deadline, or imagining failing all exams. Notice the thoughts, then remind yourself: this is imagination, not fact. Then, ask yourself: what one step you can take to
make progress with your essay/revision. The key is to focus on small tasks so that they are manageable.
- Focus on making progress, not the result: a lot of the worry thoughts in relation to academic work tend to be about the future, about failing, about not getting things done, or fear of negative feedback. Instead, focus on what you are learning, what you are doing each day.
- Remind yourself of your values: you can relate to these even if feeling frustrated, tired, or worried. See yourself as someone who perseveres with efforts, is responsible, wants to make progress, and is interested in moving forward. You can add more to this list so that you can use this list as a reminder. It is more effective when the list reflects what you
knowto be true about you.
- Maintain your energy level: worry thoughts increase when we are tired. This is because we need energy to focus our attention on the task at hand, and when tired it is more difficult to maintain our focus and control our emotions.
- Practice mindfulness: focus your attention on your breathing, notice the thoughts and let them go.
Ask yourself: “Is this thought helpful?” Probably not, then let it go. Instead, connect with your environment. Look outside of the window, or go for a walk.
Notice the sky, the open space, nature, feel the breeze, breathe in and out slowly to restore your balance.
Ask yourself: “What is this thought preventing you from doing right now that is important to you?” Instead of focusing on the content of the thoughts, focus on what you want to make progress on.
- Breathe.Stretch.Move: it is essential to move and stretch your muscles. When studying for prolonged periods of time our bodies become tired and muscles can ache with the tension of sitting down for too long. Instead, plan study periods of no more than half hour, then stand up for five minutes stretch, walk, look outside or go outside and get some natural light. This helps the blood to circulate through your body, and take nutrients to your brain so it can function optimally. This will also alert you and you will notice you will be able to concentrate better.
Carbonell, D.A. (2016) The Worry Trick. How your brain tricks you into expecting the worst and what you can do about it. California: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Leahy, R.L. (2006) The Worry Cure. Stop worrying and start living. New York: Piatkus.
Rossman, M. (2010) The Worry Solution. New York: Crown Archetype, Random House, Inc.