Many clients ask me how they can stop worrying about something when the thought seems to be ever-present. This is a common problem with people struggling with anxiety, depression, stress or grief. The thoughts running through their mind seem to control them as opposed to feeling they have control over their thoughts.
Research has shown that it is easier to focus ON a thought than it is to try NOT to focus on a thought. For example, if I were to ask you NOT to think of a striped elephant, you would have a much harder time being successful at that than if I were to tell you to focus ON a striped elephant. So, when trying to stop a thought or worry from running your life (or your day), it is most effective to direct your attention to something else. Here are some tips on how to do this:
Get busy. Even if you don’t feel like doing anything productive, get up and move. Exercise, clean, do some gardening, organize your home or office. No matter what you choose to do, make it something that requires you to move a little and actively involve yourself in the task.
If it is not a good or reasonable time for you to get up and move, such as if you are lying in bed at night worrying, try shifting your thoughts to a hobby of yours that you enjoy. If you like golfing, think about it. If you like reading, think about what you are going to read next. If you like decorating, think about the next project you are looking forward to starting. By engaging in thoughts that we enjoy, we are releasing positive endorphins into our system, which help to mitigate worry or sadness.
Spend time with a friend. Having conversations with others is engaging and comforting. Try not to focus your discussion on your worries, but rather on good listening, or better yet, laughing and enjoying the company of someone special to you.
Set aside a specific time to “worry.” Schedule an hour into your day when you can worry or talk to someone about your concerns. Simply knowing that time is scheduled can be very helpful in letting go of the ruminating thoughts during the rest of the day.
Overall, remember you are not alone. This is a challenge for many people when they are coping with anxiety, depression or simply the stress of a difficult time in life. Nevertheless, if self-help strategies are not doing the trick, reaching out for professional assistance is an option that can help you to improve the way you feel so you can get on with enjoying your life.
Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC http://www.thcounseling.com