All of us have negative thoughts from time to time and we all have thoughts of worry, whether it is about our future, work, finances, health or relationships. Worry isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. It can be quite beneficial to help us plan and problem solve as we can use these thoughts to think constructively and creatively about problems.
When our worry thoughts become obsessive or difficult to control then it can cause significant distress or anxiety. When we are pre-occupied with thinking about the what-ifs or worst-case scenarios it can be emotionally draining leaving us with unrelenting feelings of fear and doubt that can interfere with our everyday life.
What differentiates healthy worry from those with anxiety is not actually the content of the thoughts but the intensity and perceived uncontrollability of the activity. When meaning is given to our worry thoughts, they can quickly spiral downwards and thoughts such as “I shouldn’t be thinking this”, or “This thought is horrible I need to make it stop” make it even harder to stop thinking about the thing we’re trying not to think of!
There are many techniques that can help to deal with these intrusive and troublesome thoughts. A few tips include23:
- Thoughts are just thoughts – remember that it’s your mind’s job to create thoughts. Instead of trying to make them stop, remember that they are just thoughts and you don’t have to engage with them. Think of thoughts as clouds passing you by. You can see them and acknowledge them and let them float by you.
- Relax – take some time out to take a few deep breaths and try to relax your muscles or spend a few minutes each day meditating – it’s hard to feel anxious when your body is relaxed
- Do something you enjoy – Engage in a task that you really enjoy, do some exercise or spend some time with your loved ones
- Worry productively – set as a specific time each day (say 30 min) to allow yourself to worry. Write down your worries and write down some solutions to these problems or steps for how you can solve these problems. Many problems don’t have an answer, no matter how long we spend trying to find the solution. If the problem cannot be solved (as many are!) then let these thoughts float past you. Remember to do a relaxing or enjoyable task after the 30 minutes.
- Explore your worry – remember that your thoughts are not facts. Examine your worry thoughts and explore the evidence for and against these thoughts, keep them in perspective and come up with a specific plan to manage the problem. Get some control back with your thoughts!
 Davey, C. L. (2013) What do we worry about? Psychology Today. http://psychologytoday.com/blog/why-we-worry/201305/what-do-we-worry-about
 How to stop worrying – Self-help strategies for anxiety relief. Helpguide. http://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/how-to-stop-worrying.htm
 Tartakovsky, M. S. (2013) What to do with worry thoughts. PsychCentral. http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/07/13/what-to-do-with-worry-thoughts/