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5 Things to Remember When Worry Takes Over (So You Can Let It Go)

Worrying Man

“Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight.” ~Benjamin Franklin

Have you every worried yourself to the point of emotional, even physical exhaustion?

Do you often feel anxious, stuck, or mistrustful of the world around you?

I know what it’s like to feel trapped by worry—in fact, I have always been a chronic worrier.

I worried and obsessed mostly about the hypothetical, the imaginary, the infinite variety of “what-if” scenarios. Eventually, I convinced myself that if I worried about every conceivable thing that could go wrong in my life, I would either avoid them altogether or numb myself of their effects.

As time went on and responsibilities increased, the worries intensified. I became anxious about raising my children well. I worried about money, career, and what people thought of me.

Then one day, I experienced a mild panic attack. Feeling overwhelmed with all I needed to get done that day, I began to experience dizziness and intense feelings of fear.

For a moment, I felt like I was living in an altered reality as my legs wobbled beneath me, and my heart pounded in my chest. I quickly found a private place to sit until the feelings passed.

I knew this was a wake-up call. I needed to find ways to manage my worry and anxiety before it got worse.

Over the years, I’ve found that embracing the following five truths stops worry from spiraling out of control:

1. You are not your worry.

For a long time, I did what most people who worry do—I tried to make it stop. I quickly learned that trying to block thoughts of worry was like trying to stop the Amazon River from flowing.

I eventually learned a simple but profound truth that changed everything for me:

You are not your emotions.

This is the power of detachment. Not the detachment that tries to be stoic but the one that allows you to feel your emotions without identifying with them.

I began to apply this by observing myself non-judgmentally as I worried. As I continued to observe myself, I learned to be at peace with my inability to stop worrying thoughts. But I also learned that I could change my response to those worrying thoughts for the better. The same can be true for you.

2. Worry cannot exist in the present.

We rarely worry about problems we presently face. Worrying is a future-oriented activity fueled by uncertainty and anticipation.

This feels unintuitive at first, but the truth of this realization was another game changer for me. As I reflected, I could see that all of my worries were about a future I could not control. What about the past? The only past events I worried about were the ones I feared would adversely affect my future.

Want to avoid worry altogether? Stay in the present. I learned to do this through mindfulness meditation. A simple mindfulness technique is to focus on your breath when you begin to drift away from the present.

When you worry, notice your breath. Let the awareness of your breath transport you to the present moment.

3. Worry can be confined.

If you’ve ever struggled with worry, you know that it can easily consume your entire day. This happened to me regularly. Once I learned to accept my worry, I decided to confine it rather than allow it free reign over my life. I would set aside a limited amount of time to allow my mind to worry intensely on its latest subject. At the end of that period, I would let it go.

Want to confine your worry? Try scheduling ten to thirty minutes a day for worry. Use this time to visualize your anxious feelings, write them down, and come up with an action plan for dealing with the root causes of your worry. If the worry reappears outside this scheduled time, postpone it until the next worry period.

4. You can give away your worry.

Have you ever noticed that your worry intensifies the more you focus on yourself? In the past, I used my worry to draw myself inward. I focused on my own needs and ignored the needs of others. It rarely helped to reduce my worry.

One of the things I learned by observing myself was my tendency to forget about my worries when I worried about other people and helped them with their needs. I let the onset of worry be a signal to call a lonely friend or spend time with a loved one. I learned to give my worry away.

5. You are human.

The greatest source of my worry was my attempt to be superhuman. I was trying to be all things to all people. I worried incessantly about what they thought of me. Instead of beating myself up for not living up to everyone’s expectations, I decided to embrace my limitedness. I cannot please everyone, and I am at peace with this truth.

It’s Time to Take a Stand

I know it might seem hard for you to integrate these tips, especially if, like most of us, you’ve struggled with a long-standing habit of coddling worry rather than openly challenging it.

But you can break down this habit one step at a time. Imagine a life without the controlling effects of worry. A life where worry itself is controlled and confined. Imagine no longer being emotionally drained by worry so that you can be truly present to those you love.

Stand up to worry. Today.

Separate yourself from it. Confine it. And let it go.

Worrying man image via Shutterstock

Profile photo of Cylon George

About Cylon George

Cylon is a spiritual chaplain, musician, devoted husband, busy dad of six, and author of Self-Love: How to Love Yourself Unconditionally. He blogs about practical spiritual tips for living well at Spiritual Living For Busy People. Sign up and get his free guide 20 Little Tricks To Instantly Improve Your Mood Even If You Feel Like Punching Something (or Someone).

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  • Amanda

    I loved this. I have been crippled by anxiety and worry in the past, it had taken over every part of my life. Everything seemed scary and fearful and I could not imagine how anybody could go on living when there was so much to fear. But very slowly I have managed to move away from it with the help of an incredibly supportive husband and by learning C.B.T. Many of your above principles are similar to what I have learnt and they have helped me incredibly with anxiety. For me it is a constant ongoing process but it has all became much easier since I accepted my anxiety, started practising mindfulness and gently acknowledged intrusive, anxious thoughts but then distracted my mind away from them onto something more positive and in the moment. Thankyou.

  • Amanda, thank you for sharing your story. It really helps to have the support of your loved ones when facing worry and anxiety. I agree that it is an ongoing process – a journey.

  • Thank you Cylon. For me worry festers just below the surface. If I find myself getting upset or being reactive it’s often based in a fear I hold. I really like your second point. When I get into this way of feeling I often just try to breathe and focus on the present. This can sometimes help the feelings pass. Thank you for your story and your wisdom.

  • You are very welcome Jennifer. It’s a privilege to share my story here. I meditate on the second point very often and it really helps me pull myself back from uncontrolled worry and fear.

  • andreastill

    Great reminders in this post Cylon; I think we can all relate to worrying and anxiety on some level and it is important to keep in mind that ‘you are not your emotions’. Not easy to implement when swimming against some powerful feelings, but by putting them into perspective can ease the pressure. Thank you for your insights!

  • qeurich

    “I convinced myself that if I worried about every conceivable
    thing that could go wrong in my life, I would either avoid them
    altogether or numb myself of their effects.”

    So true Cylon. In a world that goes spinning faster than we can conceive possible, we try and do all we can to exert control and bring stability to our lives.

    Except, of course, what would help us most!

    Great list!

  • I fully agree Andrea. It is certainly not easy to be mindful in the midst of powerful emotional storms, but it’s definitely worth the effort. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  • Pamela

    I am generally a pretty laid back person. I don’t constantly worry, but I do find that when something worries me, I obsess about it. It takes over my entire being. So it doesn’t happen very often, but it’s pretty debilitating when it does happen. I find that when I journal during those times, it helps calm me down. I have also learned the power of mindfulness. That is one of my favorite things to do when I start worrying. It is SO helpful!

  • aj1880

    I am a worrier, especially when I am thinking through how to proceed to address an issue. For example, an issue at work arises — I will worry and think about what the next right thing to do is. Often the worry is short-lived, meaning it looms large for about 1/2 hour and then its strength diminishes and I move to acceptance and next steps. But sometimes, the worry is longer-lasting. When it’s longer lasting, I might have a sleepless night as I am thinking about the issue. When I was younger and this happened, I would fight the worry and try to force myself to let it go and sleep. This usually resulted in a terrible night.

    One time, I thought — what if I just get up and stop fighting it? I took a hot bath in the middle of a night, read a magazine and didn’t sleep. I just accepted that I was worried about something. In a day or two, I addressed the issue, accepted it so it didn’t loom so large and moved on. As I’ve gotten older, far fewer things can take a hold of me like this, but there are times when I still worry. However, a few years back I had an extremely stressful job where the volume of worrying and the number of sleepless nights was significant. Eventually I decided that this job was not for me; I found a new job and that was 100% the right move. Not to say my job now is perfect or there aren’t things that cause worry. However, it’s far, far less. I also speak to others whom I love and trust when I am worried and am candidly honest about my worries or fears. This helps to ease the burden too.

    Worrying is a big focus area for me, and I really like your essay. This really resonated with me. I appreciate your candor and very insightful information. It will definitely always be an area of focus for me.

  • Great post. The idea of scheduling time during your day to worry makes the actual concept of worrying seem so unnecessary and pointless. Great way to help a worry go away. Also, focusing on others and not ourselves can definitely reduce worry in our own personal lives. Thanks for sharing all your insight.

  • Nicki Lee

    I love the idea of scheduling worry time and not allowing your anxiety to take over your entire day. Very helpful post!

  • Talya Price

    This has helped me quite a bit. I have recently had incident happen to me where I was taken advantage of. I had a casting that really was not a casting at all and because of that I spent most of my money and and felt very degraded. I regret my decision. But I learned from it. And not I am worried about the future of my life and my career. I have had sleepless night and I am scared. On top of being depressed.

    I just want to say that this post came to me at the right time. Thank you for posting this.

  • Thank you for these thoughts. I especially like how you bring up the point about how our environment can exacerbate our worry. Sometimes it’s hard to have the courage to change your environment, even when you know it will be better for you. Bravo to you for taking a leap of faith on your job situation 🙂

  • Talya, it is gratifying to know my article helped you in a time of need. You remind me how much the actions of others can affect us and bring us down. But I am also encouraged by your inner strength that allows you face the pain and work through it.

  • Love this post – so well thought out – obviously from experience 🙂 The realization that worrying is simply my own thoughts and thought processes was the biggest breakthrough for me. Once I acknowledge that, then what I need to address is my thinking, and not the situation that’s causing worry. Not easy to make that distinction when I’m in the throes of worry, but until that recognition happens, I’m not in a position to address it!

  • Thank you Saiisha. I love your thoughts on this! Thank you for sharing 🙂

  • justbreathe

    I really needed to read this, thank you for writing this beautiful piece of work. I am worrier and sometimes I need reminding of the latter.

  • Michael Wilkinson

    Another tip is to share your feelings with someone you trust. Brene Brown talks about sharing such feelings with someone who has earned the right to hear them – someone who will help you get through the situation when worry takes over.

  • Sukuma

    I really like this. I have recently started a practical philosophy evening course; during evening one we explored the concept of “you are not your thoughts” – point 1. It took a while for me to explore the concept, but I certainly think it is worthwhile thinking about what it actually means, as it helps to abstract yourself from your thoughts; your thoughts are not you, and for me it helps to give me power to control them, rather than the other way round. Great ideas Cylon.

  • Hey Cylon, I especially like “You are not your worry.” Exactly! Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

  • Thank you Sukuma. I agree, these are concepts you often need to sit with for a while in order to fully integrate them into your life. I’m still working on it myself 🙂

  • You’re welcome Lynn!

  • Amy L. Osmon

    Thank you!

  • giovanni

    This is what my practice of dharma has taught me and it sounds like the author has similar thoughts

    To put all this simply. It is about releasing grasping attchment. Grasping attachment is basically when you cannot let go of something even though it causes you suffering. An example would be going back to a cheating ex over and over, that would be grasping attachmento to a person, but it is not limited to people, it can be an object or even an idea that you hold grasping attachment to. If we do not stay mindful of our grasping attachment and let go, we will auffer..only you create your reality. The reality we all have formed is just an illusion that the mind can manipulate. The mind has amazing potential and power to make ANY situation into a positive, we each hold the potential of complete enlightenment, understand that pain is inevitable, suffering is optional, and you can overcome any mental affliction.

  • VVBS

    I love this post, it has really encouraged me to embrace my limitedness. Thanks for brightening up this day with some inspiring words.

  • Natalia Granada

    I love the ideas and thank your for the post. However, it sounds a bit like some parts were actually taken from “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle.

  • S.P

    I have excessive worry for my unborn grandson. His mother smokes tobacco. In the past she has drank alcohol and has smoked marijuana.Her own father abuses marijuana with children present, her mother is addicted to presription pain meds, and she is a recovered meth addict. The extended family that my grandson will be around a lot has 2 child molesters and several additional alcoholics and drug abusers that will all be in the same home at times as my grandson. I have been told by one of my own good descent family members that is around this home often that the drug, alcohol and marijuana abusers do not care about the health or safety of children in their home. My grandson is at high risk of being molested or seeing the drug and marijuana abuse.