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January 17, 2019

What To Do When You Worry Too Much: 3 Experts Share Incredibly Powerful Tips + Strategies To Stop Worrying


“Worrying is carrying tomorrow's load with today's strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn't empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” 

― Corrie Ten Boom

Corrie Ten Boom Worry Quote

A sincere thanks to all the awesome experts who shared their best tips, insights and strategies on what to do when you worry too much.

# Become comfortable with discomfort

We all handle the discomfort of stress and worry in our own ways.

Having these feelings is not a problem, but sometimes what we DO with those feelings can be. Many people avoid or flat out run (knowingly or not) from these uncomfortable feelings.  

The problem is that when we avoid these feelings, when we leave them unrecognized, we head down a road that typically leads to even more stress and worry.

This avoidance can cause irritability, increased sadness or feeling “off.”  

People may feel keyed up or find themselves full of rage. Even if you try your best to ignore and avoid these thoughts and feelings they almost always seek an outlet – a way to find relief and release. This is a shared experience among humans – the need to alleviate our discomfort.  

So how can a person help themselves better manage stressed and worried feelings?

First – give yourself a break!

Remind yourself that life is full of challenges. If you are a parent remember that parenting is the hardest and most emotional job you will EVER have.  Offer yourself some kindness. Know that tomorrow is a new day and it offers you the opportunity to do differently.

Second – feel your feelings.

The greatest way to deal with your feelings is to allow yourself to acknowledge them. Stop judging your feelings or yourself for having them - there are no bad feelings.  

By sitting with your emotions rather than reacting to them you offer yourself the opportunity to process them and remain intact. You become aware that you can survive your emotions. You will calm down; the moment will pass; you can successfully, even as hard as it feels, manage your way through.

As the quote above states: “When we are willing to stay even a moment with uncomfortable energy, we gradually learn not to fear it.”

Third – forgive yourself if you need to.

This follows up with #1 and offering yourself some kindness. Forgive yourself if you’ve yelled a little too much, or been a bit snappy. You can even talk with the people you feel you’ve been a bit too curt with about your feelings. There may be no need to apologize, but possibly a chance to share your feelings and connect with someone.  

Use yourself and your reactions as a teaching moment and then work to react differently. (*** If you find yourself having extreme or aggressive reactions see resources below).

Fourth – focus on reality.

Stress and worry are the tricksters of emotions. They can make small problems seem really big. You may find yourself catastrophizing situations and coming up with a thousand awful end results. The truth is anything your mind comes up with may be possible, but the very important question to ask yourself is, are they probable?

All of life is vulnerable to extremes – the best of or the worst of things. The reality, however, is that most of life happens in the middle. Most of life is neither the best nor the worst. This is a valuable reminder when life begins to feel overwhelming.

Fifth – get some support.

When the stress and anxiety of life become overwhelming it can feel very lonely and often like you are the only one who has these feelings. I guarantee that you aren’t. You are not alone. You’re just one of so many suffering in silence (especially if you’re a parent) – too embarrassed or ashamed to talk about what you’re feeling or doing. I go back to my first comment: offer yourself some kindness.

The world has changed drastically over the past 20 years and finding our “village” can be extremely difficult these days. We often have to look really hard for them. But you can find them. They’re there in your parenting Facebook groups, in your own family, with your colleagues or other peer groups in which you have some feeling of trust. Sometimes just hearing someone say, “yeah, that happens to me too” is all you need for support and relief.

So, while there is no magic elixir to take away stress and worry, there are some things you can do to better cope with it.

Some people appear to be handling life with ease, but we never really know what is happening for a person. On the outside someone may seem calm, cool and collected, but inside they may feel shaky; they may find themselves having difficulty breathing, feeling chest pains, getting sweaty and/or dizzy.

Some people might be questioning if they can really manage all that life and/or parenthood throws at them; maybe they're feeling on edge or even full of rage; maybe there's a growing worry that they can’t handle all their feelings or they're overwhelmed with meeting everyone's needs.

If any of this speaks to you it may be time to talk with a professional for support. Asking for help is not a weakness; it is the bravest and strongest action you can take.

Rachel Rothman Borrero, LCSW-R – www.rrbtherapy.com

# Practice the 'Container' technique

This technique falls under the category of mindfulness and is a component of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) therapy, although it works well with any treatment modality. I use “The Container” with almost all of my private clients and it is helpful for 95% of the clients who utilize it. 

The key is to follow the step and determine which option works best for you, and to use this technique on a daily basis until you are comfortable with it.

It can be used with any age, even modified for small children. The purpose of “The Container” is to offer a safe place to store feelings, images, and feelings to revisit, either in a therapy session, or later when you are safely able to process.

1. For ages 10+, Visualize a container that would be able to safely store anything unpleasant or disturbing that comes to mind

This container should be strong enough to secure disturbances including memories, feelings/ emotions, images, thoughts, physical sensations, smells, and sounds. 

Picture, or write down the characteristics of the container. It should be strong and secure, but allow you to take things out as you desire. It should be comfortable enough for past experiences to be willing to stay until you are ready to work on them.

Example: My personal container was not very exciting to start. What initially came to mind was a boring old tupperware container- clear container, maroon lid.  This is what I started with when this technique was presented me the first time.

I chose this partially because it was concrete enough as I had these specific containers in my cabinet- feel free to be more imaginative and creative!  (I have had clients create mental containers such as a metal safe, filing cabinet, bucket with a lid, computer with a CD drive, a jewelry box, a gift box, and a doll house.) 

For ages under 10 (or if you struggle with abstract ideas, you may find an actual container to use- there are a lot of adult clients who prefer to find an actual container, which is fine!)  

I have a stack of tupperware in my office for teaching clients how to use this and some transition to a mental container and some continue to use a physical container- either the tupperware, or something more fun such as a metal tin or jewelry box.

2. Imagine using (or actually use) the container:  

Either write down the memory, thought, feeling, image, or sensation, or picture it in your mind. Once you have it ready, go ahead and put it in the container and put the lid on/ shut/ lock the container.  This may take some practice mentally, which is why I would start with a physical container until you can visualize this in your mind’s eye. Take a deep breath and notice and sensations. 

3. Notice:  

Notice any positive feelings / emotions / sensations are coming up as you imagine putting things into your container.  Focus on those positive sensations.

If there are any lingering negative feelings, thoughts, etc. go ahead and write those down/ mentally list them, and put those in the container as well until you feel that the disturbance is contained until you are ready to access it. You should feel positive, or at least neutral if you have contained the disturbance/s.

4. Designate a cue word: 

As you focus on those positive feelings or sensations, is there a word or phrase that would represent your container?  Strengthen the connection between your cue word and positive feelings by picturing them several times in the following minutes. Pretty soon, you will be able to contain negative sensations, and say your cue word to tie in positive feelings in just a couple of minutes.

5. Practice:

Keep in mind that this technique is like any other exercise, mental or physical, and it takes practice. Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work right away, or if you need to use a physical container.

6. Reassess:

This technique is not meant to ignore or stuff negative thoughts and feelings. It simply gives us a place to store these intrusive sensations until we are either with a therapist, or in a safe place and ready to process.

Many times, the things we put in the container don’t need to be revisited (such as a bad day at work or being cut off in traffic), but for the bigger items, especially those related to traumatic events or negative life circumstances do need to be processed with the help of a professional.

I recommend following “The Container” with a few deep breaths, or by going to my mental happy place for a couple of minutes before resuming with life.




Kelli Korn, MSW, LCSW – www.cofamilycounselingcenter.com

# Develop self awareness around the thought

Imagine you are walking through your grocery store, I live in the same small town that I grew up in, so going to the grocery store is often like a class and family reunion in one. This is a very real scenario in my life. You see a woman that you graduated with and she looks the other way without saying hi…….

One possible way this scenario plays out:

First thought: “She’s stuck up and thinks she is better than me.”

Emotion: self-righteous indignation

Action: Huff and puff and continue to grocery shop

Body Sensation: shoulders stiffen initially and then slump, sinking feeling in stomach

A scene like this has the potential to send you into a spiral of shame and anxiety. Why didn’t she say hi?  Did I do something wrong? What is wrong with me? And on and on…..

I often introduce this breakdown exercise in the early stages of therapy and I do it myself on a regular basis. It is the basic recognition of the connection between your emotions, body sensations, thoughts, and actions to gain a self-awareness that what we are feeling is more than that- that there is more going on behind the scenes.

Sometimes, we don’t even realize how anxious we are.

In some of us, anxiety has been a way of life since birth. We grew up in anxious families and the constant worry is so normal that we don’t know any differently. Think this, the phone rings and you instantly think something has happened or someone has been hurt. Or something goes well and your first thought is to prepare yourself for when it goes wrong.  If this sounds familiar, read on. 

We can also grow into our anxiety.

A subtle shifting toward a constant feeling of being on edge, a swelling sense of dread and worry that stays with us through the day. Thoughts that circle around and around until they spiral up into a knotted mess that keeps you trapped in fret and worry.

The use of mindfulness, defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn as

“An awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally,” to manage anxiety and stress is prevalent in therapy today. I find that focusing on the present moment brings an awareness to how we are feeling, giving us the ability to ask ourselves “What is going on?” with a gentle curiosity.

Combining this gentle curiosity, with the time-tested and accessible skill building of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy produces a highly effective way to untangle and let go, or at least observe, all of those worrisome thoughts.

A way to practice this in action is to start paying attention the next time you find yourself feeling highly emotional.

First, take note of what is happening, or identifying the triggering event. Where are you? Who are you with? What is happening? What time of day is it?

Observing the thoughts, emotions, behaviors and sensations of your body in connection to the triggering event:

1. What is your first thought when this happened?

Don’t try to edit yourself. Even if your first thought is something horrible or mean. Name it. Step into a place of accountability. Honesty with yourself has to happen or this exercise will not do you any good. 

2. What are you feeling in your body?

Our bodies often tell us what’s up before we have any clue. Do your palms get sweaty?  Do you turn pale? Do you get shaky? Heart beat fast? Nauseous?  Take a moment to listen to how your body is speaking to you.

What emotion are you feeling?

Most of us have limited emotional vocabularies, we think in terms of happy, sad, angry or hurt. But in fact there are so many beautiful and nuanced emotions out there that can describe how you are feeling. Try some of these out: discouraged, embarrassed, sarcastic, jealous, remorseful, secure, confident, worthwhile, playful and optimistic.

3. What actions do you take?

We always have a behavior linked to these thoughts, emotions and body sensations, even if it is to not do anything. Do any of these sound familiar?  I ignored what was happening.  I avoided seeing that person.   I said I was sorry immediately. I took a deep breath.  I rolled my eyes. I became restless in my seat.

I have found that each person is unique in that they naturally gravitate toward one area. Some of us instinctually move toward identifying the thought first, others identify their body’s sensations, actions or emotions initially. Wherever you start is ok, just go where you naturally lean into. I am a thought person, that’s what I recognize first. The rest I have to work at a little bit, especially the emotion.

It isn’t the complete or only answer to stop worry or bothersome thoughts.

But the self awareness that comes out of this skill is a vital and necessary step to being able to interrupt a potential anxious thought spiral that could keep you up at night with its nonsense.

So let’s replay the grocery store scene with a little glimpse into how we can potentially interrupt the anxious cycle of thought.

First thought, “She’s stuck up and thinks she is better than me.”

Challenge the thought. What other possibilities exist? She could have just heard some bad news. She didn’t see me. She was in a hurry.  Her dog died that morning.

Emotion: self-righteous indignation

Feel the emotion and know that it will pass

Action: Huff and puff and continue to grocery shop

Take a deep breath and check yourself.

Body Sensation: shoulders stiffen initially and then slump, sinking feeling in stomach

Notice what is going on in your body.

Try it out. See what you come up with.

Angela Shirey, LCSW – www.sperogroupllc.com