How to worry less and deal with the fear of what might happen

by | Nov 9, 2021 | Life, Mindset, Self Care

There is no shortage of things we can worry about in motherhood, regardless of what stage we are in.

Worry is thinking about all the potentially negative (from your perspective) possibilities that could eventuate in the future. The what-ifs. Sometimes these possibilities are real and sometimes they are imagined. Either way, worry stems from fear and uncertainty. Through worrying, we try to anticipate every possible outcome which helps us feel prepared and gives a sense of control.

 

Productive and unproductive worry

We tend to label worry as a negative emotion because it is uncomfortable and difficult, but just like all our emotions, worry is part of living a full human experience and can serve an important purpose. Worry is helpful when it alerts us to a potential problem or possible negative outcome that we really do need to consider and motivates us to take action. We will call this productive worry. For example, when you:

  • Detect some symptoms which cause you to worry about your health or your child’s health, you book a check-up with a doctor.
  • Notice your child is more withdrawn than usual and you are worried something is wrong, you initiate a conversation with them to see if everything is ok.
  • Start locking the front door with a key, once your child is able to reach and turn the door handle themselves because you are worried they will let themselves out and wander off.

However, worry can also be unproductive when we continue to focus on something that is unlikely, or without any concrete information or intuitive understanding, and without taking any action to manage the situation and our worry. I want to note that not everyone would say that intuition is a sound basis for worry, but I think our intuition is trustworthy and valid, and women, in general, can afford to trust their intuition more, so it’s important to include this.

When we engage in regular unproductive worry, it starts to impact our wellbeing and how we live our lives. We may experience increased stress, anxiety and physical ailments and start to avoid certain triggering situations.

Is it a mother’s job to worry?

In the context of motherhood, worry is sometimes seen as part of a mother’s job, or even an expression of love. With these beliefs, worrying less could be equated with showing less love or not being a good enough mother, which makes it really hard for women to break free from constant worrying. If this is you, then remember that we don’t have to get rid of all worry. It is unproductive worry that we are looking to lessen, and with it, lessen the negative impacts on our wellbeing and lives.

 

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How to worry less

Are you ready to worry less?

Here are 6 strategies to get you started. 

1. Reflect on what you believe are the benefits of worrying

Even difficult emotions, like worrying, can provide us with what we perceive as benefits. Understanding what might be consciously or subconsciously driving your worry is useful because you can determine if the benefits are real and significant enough. If not, then there is less motivation to continue to engage in worrying.

What does worrying give you? What does it mean about you when you worry?

Perhaps you believe that worrying proves you are a good mother or caring person who is deeply concerned about and invested in the wellbeing of your children or others. The reality is that you can be a good mother and caring person without excessive worry.

You might believe that worrying is showing you are doing something useful in difficult situations, but without action, worrying doesn’t help solve any problems. 

Maybe you believe that worrying helps prepare you for things that might go wrong so you don’t get surprised but you can still be aware of possible outcomes without excessive worry. 

Not surprisingly, research reviews indicate that people with perfectionistic tendencies seem to worry a lot. This is because perfectionism leads us to believe that we need to avoid making mistakes, make perfect decisions and stop all the negative things from happening.  However, we can’t control anything outside of ourselves and as humans, we are not going to get everything right or make everything perfect all the time. If we believe that mistakes are bad, we will want to avoid them, but if we shift this perspective to seeing mistakes as learning or data gathering, then mistakes are actually beneficial. 

How do your beliefs about worry stack up?

 

2. Learn to observe but not get hooked by your thoughts

We don’t have to follow and focus on every thought that comes into our minds. In fact, it’s impossible to do so, since we have thousands of thoughts each day. We can allow our thoughts to come and go without getting hooked by them, meaning we don’t focus on and continue to think about them even more, letting them grow and fuel more intense feelings. 

Next time you notice a worry thought, try this: imagine that you are observing the thoughts in your mind. You are not the thought. You are the observer of the thought. In your head, you can say something like “there’s that worry thought” and then imagine putting that thought onto a cloud and letting it drift off into the sky in it’s own time, separate to you. Accept that it is there and that it is ok to have worry thoughts, but let it stay on the cloud, rather than consuming all your attention and becoming part of you. Acknowledging and accepting the thought allows us to release it, rather than suppressing it which can make us feel even more distressed about it. Repeat this each time the thought comes back and over time you may find that the frequency of this thought reduces.

 

 

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3. Schedule worry time

If worrying seems to invade most of your day, you might like to try this research-backed strategy to manage your worries. Allow yourself dedicated worry time on a regular basis. It doesn’t have to be daily, but it can be if you need it. Set 10 – 20 mins aside to devote your attention to your worries. During this time you can think or journal about them, allowing all the thoughts and feelings to come up without judgement or editing.

If a worry comes up outside of this time, briefly acknowledge it and remind yourself you will be able to focus on it during worry time, before switching your attention to something else.

 

4. Take action

When we’re caught in unproductive worrying we’re doing lots of thinking and feeling but are unlikely to be taking any action. You can make your worry more productive by identifying what you CAN do right now to address the situation, and doing that. Or, is there something you can plan to do at a specific time in the future? If it’s hard to find the answer, ask yourself what advice you would give to a friend if they were in the same situation. Once you’ve taken all the action that is possible, give yourself permission to stop worrying about this particular situation.

 

5. Examine your worry thoughts

Remember that worries can be either real or imagined, but our brains can’t distinguish between the two. We can have as real and intense a reaction to an imagined worry as we can to a real worry. So, it’s up to us to do some intentional examination of these thoughts to diffuse the intensity of the worry. 

How realistic or likely are your worries?

What would be a more realistic thought?

While something bad may happen, could something good also happen?

 

6. Come back to the present

Worrying pulls us into the future, but we will not know how things will turn out, or be able to respond to them until the moment comes. Right now, all you have is the present, and bringing your attention back to the present will help you stop worrying.

There are lots of options to do this. For example:

  • Focus on your breathing
  • Listen to soothing music or nature sounds
  • Do any task mindfully, which means you give it your full attention, paying attention to your senses in the moment.
  • Try progressively moving from your head down to your toes, slowing tensing and releasing muscles as you go.
  • Meditation
  • Noticing 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you smell, 2 things you can touch, and 1 thing you can taste.

Anything that helps you focus on the present moment, rather than worrying about the future, is going to help you feel more calm and grounded. Practicing this as often as possible will make it easier and more natural. 

 

Is there a strategy here that appeals to you, lovely? Give it a try for a few days and see what difference it makes. 

 

 

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