If there’s one thing that’s common to all human beings, it's our intense desire to find happiness. And although the journey to happiness is paved with different types of obstacles, there’s something that often gets in our way: worry. According to this infographic, a staggering amount of people (two out of every five – 40 per cent) describe themselves as “worriers”. Furthermore, many of them admit they don’t know how to stop worrying about the future.
Worrying per se is not harmful. From an evolutionary perspective, humans have developed the ability to worry for a reason, possibly as a defence mechanism that became essential for survival. In other words, we learned to worry so we could avoid dangerous or threatening situations.
Indeed, a certain degree of worry about what the future holds can help us come up with action plans to improve the quality of our lives. But, as with everything else, there's a place and a time for everything, and extremes are unhealthy. If you have a tendency to worry, you’ll benefit from knowing how it could be affecting your well-being, and which techniques will help you stop worrying about the future.
Constant worry can easily lead to anxiety, which, in turn, can lead to mental illness. Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health issues at a global level, with almost 300 million people affected every year. The fact that they are so common tells us it’s easy to let worry snowball into something chronic that takes over your perceptions, thoughts, and actions.
Why worry? If it's making you anxious, it's time to break the habit
Excessive worries are bad for your mental health, but this habit can also affect your physical health. Worrying is not enjoyable and you feel anxious while these thoughts remain. Anxiety is proven to have a negative impact on health, causing a range of conditions from headaches to respiratory and heart disease and digestive disorders. It can also interfere with your cognitive skills: a recent study found that constant anxiety causes a spike in a protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Then there’s the social aspect of excessive worrying about the future, as it can have a negative impact on your relationships and stop you from enjoying bonds with family and friends. And as famous watchmaker Corrie ten Boom once said, “worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength”. You know it’s time to learn how to stop worrying about the future if this habit interferes with your well-being and cripples your decision-making ability.
The negative effects of this destructive habit are wide-ranging and underline the importance of learning how to stop worrying about the future. Here are four practical techniques you can develop to get yourself out of the worry trap and focus on the here and now.
The first step is identifying the triggers and cultivating awareness about your own thoughts and mental processes. It's impossible to learn how to stop worrying about the future if you don't know what triggers the worrying cycle. Think about which limiting beliefs are causing you to worry. For example, thoughts such as worrying because you don’t want to be caught off-guard, to prevent disappointment, or because it’s a way of showing that you care. These ideas have a positive intention, but they’re still limiting instead of enabling.
Another thing you should know is that you can step out of the negative cycle so these thoughts don’t dominate your thinking process. Ask yourself the following three things:
Whether the worrying thought is true. Worries that involve the future deal with events that haven’t happened yet, so it’s impossible to decide if they're true or not. Moreover, some studies show that 85 per cent of what we worry about either doesn’t happen or is not as bad as we imagined. In some cases, the worrying thoughts are true.
For example, maybe you’ve been made redundant and now constantly worry about what your future will look like without a job. It’s important to understand that some things are unavoidable and there’s nothing we can do, which doesn’t mean we are failures. We can’t possibly prepare for everything that’s in store, but we can prepare to be stronger and handle the situation productively.
“You know it’s time to learn how to stop worrying about the future if this habit interferes with your well-being and cripples your decision-making ability.”
Ask yourself how important is the worrying thought and grade it on a scale on one to ten. If it’s below five, it’s not really important, so move onto the next step. If it’s above five, move onto next step all the same.
Now ask yourself, “Is the thought helpful?”. If it’s not (almost certainly!), you can train yourself to observe unhelpful thoughts from the outside without letting them take over. If you learn to be an observer of your thoughts instead of a 'sufferer', you’ll become less sensitive to negative emotions. Establishing a mindfulness practice is one of the most effective things you can do to achieve this and learn how to stop worrying about the future.
Excessive worry about future events creates 'noise' that can be countered with mind-cleaning techniques. There’s a good selection of things to try here, but let’s draw attention to an easy one to get you started into the habit of cleaning your mind intentionally. It’s called Blue Sky Visualization, and these are the steps to follow:
Establishing a self-care routine can help you become stronger and less vulnerable to excessive worry. Moreover, it’ll help you focus on the present and on taking small and positive steps each day. What you eat and drink matters for both physical and emotional well-being, so it would be a good idea to cut down on sugar, caffeine, and processed foods, and replace them with nourishing and wholesome alternatives.
“Some studies show that 85 per cent of what we worry about either doesn’t happen or is not as bad as we imagined.”
Exercise is also important. You don’t have to go overboard here, simply be consistent. You may also want to try progressive muscle relaxation to raise awareness about which parts of your body are under stress when you worry. The idea is to slowly tighten and relax the body muscles, one at the time, from forehead to feet. Don’t forget to indulge in the feeling of relaxation! Finally, be consistent with your sleep and waking routine, and avoid staying up until late, which may lead to negative thinking.
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When we talk about how to stop worrying about the future, we know it’s hard to break the habit right away. However, you can start by consciously limiting the time you devote to worry and doubt.
What if you only gave yourself five minutes a day to worry? Set an alarm (making sure it’s not before bed time!) and give yourself a specific time to go over the things that worry you. Refuse to engage in worrying at any other times, and instead carry a notepad where you write your worries down to examine them later under a more rational lens, for example, by asking the questions described in point two above.
The time is now: limit worry time © shutterstock/Look Studio
Trying to break a habit takes time and effort, but once you learn how to stop worrying about the future, you'll begin to see the great benefits it holds. Once you start focusing on the things you can act upon, you’re more likely to feel positive and motivated instead of letting uncertainty or your circumstances overwhelm you.
A positive mindset can also strengthen your health and immune system by reducing stress levels. Concentrating on how to get more enjoyment out of the present will build appreciation for the simple pleasures in life. In addition, you’ll be able to focus on developing quality relationships that contribute to your happiness. More importantly, you’ll build the skills needed to control negative thoughts, and that’s something you should be proud of!
As hard as it may seem now, you should know that it is possible to learn how to stop worrying about the future. The habit didn’t take hold overnight, so breaking it and learning to take control over it will require conscious practice. Train your mind and make a deliberate effort following the suggestions in this article, until your mind becomes stronger than your worrying habit. ●
Main image: shutterstock/pathdoc
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A social sciences graduate with a keen interest in languages, communication, and personal development strategies. Dee loves exercising, being out in nature, and discovering warm and sunny places where she can escape the winter.
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