How To Stop Worrying When Your Mind Won’t Stop Racing
Worrying all the time is a reality for many smart, ambitious people. Long hours at work, increased pressure to succeed and rigorous career demands often result in concerns that multiply and go unchecked.
Worrying consistently throughout the day or a host of little things that zip in and out of your head and break your concentration, there’s one simple way to manage them: take a worry break.
The Benefits of Worrying on a Schedule
A worry break is a scheduled time that you set aside on a regular basis to focus on the anxieties or problems that are preoccupying you.
If that sounds like a recipe for more stress, consider this: spending 15 to 20 minutes a day on a worry deep-dive can ultimately reduce your worries and help you cope more effectively with the challenges thrown at you. When you focus intensely on your concerns at a designated time instead of letting them run wild and interfere with your day, you’re more equipped to create constructive solutions.
If you’re ready to try a worry break, here’s how to start:
Schedule a time for your worry break.
Pick a time when you are usually alone and are less likely to be interrupted. Ideally, you would take a worry break on a daily basis, making it part of your routine. This also makes you less prone to skipping it on hectic or stressful days (which is when you need it most). Proactively tending to your mental well-being should be a habit, not an afterthought. Set a calendar reminder, write it in your planner and commit to it.
Channel worries elsewhere until it’s time to focus on them.
Trying to fight off negative thoughts and emotions backfires. They will just pop back up like trying to hold a beach ball under water.
Instead, capture your worries in a document, journal or note. You may find it helpful to jot down stressful thoughts as they occur to you, especially if you feel worried about so many things that you can’t even keep track of them. (It happens — especially to us perfectionists.)
This serves a few purposes: it keeps you organized, gives you peace of mind you won’t forget anything important and means worries stay out of sight, out of mind until you’re prepared to tackle them. This may be difficult at first, but it gets easier.
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During your worry break, worry intensely, but worry well.
When your scheduled worry break arrives, don’t do anything but worry. Free write about your fears and concerns. Be as detailed and specific as possible. Don’t censor yourself. If any new ideas or next steps occur to you as you worry, jot those down too.
When problems meet the light of day, you’ll probably find that solutions often come more naturally than you ever expected. It makes perfect sense: when you resist negative emotions like worry, they only become stronger. But when you confront them head-on, we diminish their power and often find ways to tackle them productively.
You might find the quiet time for reflection and deep concentration allows you to think more clearly. Or you might try setting a timer to brainstorm possible options to run by your team or a trusted mentor. Asking yourself questions like the ones below can also unlock your creative thinking:
- What story or limiting thoughts am I telling myself about this situation?
- What would I do if I had unlimited time and resource or if X wasn’t a barrier?
- What would I like to happen?
- What will I do first?
Worry Break Over? Time to Move On
When your worry break is over, switch gears. If you feel fixated on a problem, remember that you’ll have another worry break on the calendar. In the meantime, you’re now free to focus your energy elsewhere, without the powerful cognitive toll that round-the-clock stress takes.
So, worry away — when the time is right.
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Melody Wilding is a performance coach for sensitive high achievers and a professor of human behavior. She helps leaders at companies like Google, Facebook, HP, Salesforce and HBO stop doubting themselves so they can strive for a successful career and a balanced life.