One of the techniques that’s usually recommended for controlling worry is to try and use evidence of past experiences or facts to assess how likely it really is that something bad will happen.
However, in the middle of the coronavirus outbreak this becomes a lot harder. Rather than health worries being ‘what ifs’ that aren’t very likely, there’s a very real risk to our health and the health of our loved ones at the moment.
Controlling worry is just as important now that the risks are elevated. If you spend hours a day reading all the breaking news stories and worrying about getting ill, it’ll make isolation much more stressful.
There are many different techniques that can be used to help us control worrying. Just as worries are different person by person, the best way to control them will vary too; don’t get disheartened if you try one of these and it doesn’t work - try another one on the list instead until you find one that works for you.
- Recognise and label the worry: Just recognising that you’ve started to worry can help you take a step back and prevent that worry from escalating. Analysing the worry and seeing if it fits one of the unhelpful thinking styles on in our previous article can also help you to keep control by analysing the worry in a more detached way; it can also help you get to know your common worry patterns and catch the situation even earlier next time.
- Decide if the worry is hypothetical: Some worries are grounded in real-life challenges that we’re facing and need to address; others are hypothetical - ‘what if’ worries. When you find yourself worrying, take a moment to think about whether it’s hypothetical or not. If it’s something that can be addressed, grab some paper and a pen and start focusing on solutions to help move you from worrying to problem solving. If it’s hypothetical, try some of the other techniques on this list to challenge the thought and move on.
- Write it out: Sometimes worries go round and round in our head because we don’t take the time to reflect on them and acknowledge them. Writing out your thoughts can be a good way to unpick the different aspects of your worry and maybe uncover parts of it you didn’t recognise before, helping you to address these and move on.
- Schedule worry time: If you find yourself constantly worrying throughout the day, it can really take its toll and distract you from other day-to-day activities. Rather than allowing worry to take over your day, put aside 20 minutes in the afternoon or early evening to acknowledge and concentrate on your concerns. Over time, this helps you break the habit of constant worrying and gives you more opportunities to enjoy life.
- Mood hacks: You’ll find many lists online with suggestions of things you can do to relax and de-stress. But just as stress is highly personal, so are the things that boost our mood. Start a list of ‘mood hacks’ - your personal list of the things that make you smile and boost your mood. When you start to feel worry creeping in, take a look at your list of mood hacks and pick the one that can help you switch off the worry in that moment.
- Limit online time: Staying up to date with the latest news and advice is important, but when we’re at home it’s easy to slip into spending a lot of time on our phones checking the latest stories or scrolling through social media. Use the screen time limit settings on your phone or download a screen time app to keep an eye on how much time you’re spending online on your phone.
- Exercise: Exercise helps to control worry in two ways. It acts as a distraction - it’s hard to worry whilst physically exerting yourself and trying to follow an online class. After you’ve finished the body also releases feel-good endorphins that help boost your mood.
- Meditation: Rather than interacting with your worries and going over them, meditation is about observing what’s in your mind at a given moment without trying to change it. It’s a great way to practise detaching yourself from worry and being in the present moment rather than being controlled by ‘what if’.