worry affects all areas of life

What to do when you can’t stop worrying

4 April 2020

Right now we’re slap bang in the middle of a pandemic, and it’s natural to worry. Life feels unpredictable and uncertain. As a result, it’s easy to get caught up in worrying about things that are out of our control.

More time at home

We’re spending a lot of time at home, and we’ve lost the comfort of our usual routines. Before we know it, we can end up spending extra time dwelling on what might happen. As a result, our minds are on high alert asking “when is this lockdown going to end?”,“when will we get back to normal?”. Additionally, we’re worrying how we’re going to pay our bills, if our jobs and businesses are safe, about everyones health and our children’s future.

But, the more we worry, the more we end up feeling anxious and overwhelmed.

If you’re struggling with overwhelm check out five ways to escape overwhelm.

Facing uncertainty

We don’t really know what our lives will be like once the pandemic is over. So much is unknown, and it makes it hard to plan what to do. Above all, our minds like certainty, so facing this strange, new situation can leave us feeling stressed and anxious. And, that often makes us worry more.

Once you add in the effects of social distancing, and the fact many of our ways of coping with worry and anxiety are now out of bounds. Furthermore, we can’t just go to the gym or for a swim, meet our friends for a drink or watch sport to help us cope.

The worry cycle

It’s normal to worry in a crisis. But spending a lot of time worrying can give the worry a life of its own. Once an idea gets in your head it can get escalate into something much bigger. What starts as a thought about, for instance, forgetting to wash your hands, can end up as believing all your family will get sick and you won’t be able to cope.

As a result, it can feel as if the same worries are repeatedly running through your head on a loop. You may find yourself worrying about getting the virus, or giving it to others, having it without knowing, not being able to work, what will happen if this carries on for longer, what will happen if…

It’s not all in the mind

Constant worrying has physical effects too. It can leave you feeling restless, unable to concentrate or sleep, with headaches, stomach problems and tense muscles. So, you may end up taking your frustrations out on the people closest to you, especially when you are together all day. Or, as a result, try to avoid the feelings by eating and drinking too much.

For more on the effects of stress on your body, read fight or flight – how your body responds to stress.

Stopping the worry loop

There are ways you can stop worry from having such a hold over you, even in the middle of a crisis. It’s possible to learn how to cope better with uncertainty.

When I work with clients who can’t stop worrying, we develop strategies to break the worry habit.

We work in partnership to look at the role worry has in their life. While going at the clients pace, I take time to support clients to develop the skills they need to make changes. Similarly, we explore ways to relax and recharge and let go of unhelpful beliefs and habits so they can enjoy their lives.

Try my six ways to help you escape from worry right now.

Tune into your emotions

For many of us, worrying about things that scare us is often a way to avoid feelings we don’t like. While we can’t change the fact that Covid-19 is here, we can recognise that we’ll have a lot of anxious thoughts and feelings and try to accept them.

It’s natural to feel sad about losing our normal way of life, and to worry about our jobs or how we’re going to keep the kids occupied.

Furthermore, research shows if we avoid our emotions, it only makes them stronger and last longer.

Breathing slowly and deeply can help you to accept any feelings or sensations you are having right now.

First of all start to breathe deeply. While you inhale and exhale, try to imagine you are a curious scientist observing what is going on inside your body. Notice the feelings, thoughts and sensations you don’t like. Try and view them with curiosity and describe them as if you are observing them for the first time. Finally, let them go.

Also, check out the benefits of body awareness for more.

Have worry time

Worry time doesn’t stop you from worrying, rather it helps keep it under control.

Here’s how to do it:

  • First of all set aside 20 minutes worry time each day.
  • Choose a regular time and place to do your worrying.
  • The afternoon works well, although it’s important not to do it too close to bedtime.
  • As worries come up during the day, write them down. Then, tell yourself you’ll think about them during your worry time.
  • Finally, do your best not to think of them throughout the rest of the day.
  • Rather, when it’s your worry time, look at your list and if they still bother you, allow yourself to worry about them for the full 20 minutes. Of course, if they don’t matter anymore, just stop early and do something else instead.
  • Finally, follow your worry time with something you enjoy.
when we can't stop worrying

Focus on what’s helpful

Helpful worries are those you can take action on right away. For example, if you’re worrying about coronavirus, making sure you wash your hands and stay at home are most certainly helpful things to do.

Unhelpful worries are those where you can’t take action. So, thinking “What if I’ve given coronavirus to someone, what if I get ill” are unhelpful because there’s nothing you can do about them.

Firstly, decide if your worry is helpful or unhelpful. Then, if it’s a helpful worry, think of all the possible actions you can take. There’s no need to find a perfect answer, but rather to focus on what you can do, not the things that are beyond your control. Then, once you have a list of options, you can make an action plan.

Maybe actions you can take right now could include exercising, eating well, learning something new and spending time with your family. Usually, taking action helps us to feel better.

Interrupt the worry cycle

When you find yourself caught up in a worry cycle, try and interrupt the anxious thoughts so you can give yourself a break.

As soon as you notice yourself worrying, first of all, get up and get moving. Exercise releases endorphins, and as a result it relieves stress, boosts energy, and helps you feel better.

So, by focusing on how your body feels as you move, you can cut short the constant worries running through your mind. You can still do this if you’re self isolating. You could dance around the kitchen, run up down the stairs or do some housework.

Create your new normal

Usually, the more structure and routine we have, the less we tend to worry.

All our daily activities have changed, so we need to find new ways to organise our time and boost our wellbeing. As a result, it maybe helpful to spend some time thinking about how you want to look after yourself, those you live with, and also your community.

So, as you plan your new daily routine, also try and include activities that give you a sense of achievement, ones that help you feel connected to others, and things you enjoy.


Concentrate on the here and now

Because we spend so much time worrying, anxious thoughts can become so automatic that we don’t notice our worry anymore. Rather, it’s as if we are hypnotised by our thoughts. Mindfulness is a way we can learn to “dehypnotise” ourselves.

Mindfulness has been used for centuries as a way of stepping back from worrying thoughts. It can be done anywhere. Mindfulness involves noticing how your body feels, the rhythm of your breathing, how your emotions change, and the thoughts that drift across your mind.

Meanwhile, if you get hooked by a thought, simply bring your attention back to the here and now.

Certainly, it takes a bit of practice, but it’s a skill you can learn just like any other.

Here’s how to do mindfulness.

  • First of all find a quiet place.
  • Then, sit comfortably, with your back straight and your hands resting on your upper legs.
  • As you close your eyes, start to breathe in through your nose, while also allowing the air to travel down into your abdomen.
  • Let your abdomen expand fully.
  • Next, breathe out through your mouth. As you do so, let your abdomen return to normal.
  • Now, focus wherever your breathing seems like it is the most vivid to you. For instance, this could be the sensation of air flowing into your nostrils and out of your mouth or your abdomen rising and falling as you inhale and exhale.
  • Above all, notice when your mind starts to wander, and simply return your focus to your breathing.

As you focus on your breathing, you’ll probably also start to notice your worries. Rather than try and push them away, just try and acknowledge them and then let them go. Similarly, try and simply observe your thinking, without reacting or judging.

You’ll probably notice that when you don’t try to control the thoughts that pop into your mind, as a result, they soon pass.

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