1. Accept uncertainty
“No one knows what is coming”– Ecclesiastes 10:14
“No one knows… but the Father. Matthew 24:36
The inability to tolerate uncertainty plays a huge role in anxiety and worry. Chronic worriers can’t stand doubt or unpredictability. They need to know with 100 percent certainty what’s going to happen. Worrying is seen as a way to predict what the future has in store—a way to prevent unpleasant surprises and control the outcome. The problem is, it doesn’t work.
Thinking about all the things that could go wrong doesn’t make life any more predictable. You may feel safer when you’re worrying, but it’s just an illusion. Focusing on worst-case scenarios won’t keep bad things from happening. It will only keep you from enjoying the good things you have in the present. So if you want to stop worrying, start by tackling your need for certainty and immediate answers.
Challenge your need for certainty: The key to anxiety relief
Ask yourself the following questions and write down your responses. See if you can come to an understanding of the disadvantages and problems of being intolerant of uncertainty.
- Is it possible to be certain about everything in life?
- What are the advantages of requiring certainty, versus the disadvantages? Or, how is needing certainty in life helpful and unhelpful?
- Do you tend to predict bad things will happen just because they are uncertain? Is this a reasonable thing to do? What is the likelihood of positive or neutral outcomes?
- Is it possible to live with the small chance that something negative may happen, given its likelihood is very low?
Adapted from: Accepting Uncertainty, Centre for Clinical Interventions
2. Challenge anxious thoughts
“Do not be anxious for anything, but in everything…present your requests to God.” Philippians 4 6
If you suffer from chronic anxiety and worries, chances are you look at the world in ways that make it seem more dangerous than it really is. For example, you may overestimate the possibility that things will turn out badly, jump immediately to worst-case scenarios, or treat every negative thought as if it were fact. You may also discredit your own ability to handle life’s problems, assuming you’ll fall apart at the first sign of trouble. These irrational, pessimistic attitudes are known as cognitive distortions.
Although cognitive distortions aren’t based on reality, they’re not easy to give up. Often, they’re part of a lifelong pattern of thinking that’s become so automatic you’re not even completely aware of it. In order to break these bad thinking habits and stop the worry and anxiety they bring, you must retrain your brain.
Start by identifying the frightening thought, being as detailed as possible about what scares or worries you. Then, instead of viewing your thoughts as facts, treat them as hypotheses you’re testing out. As you examine and challenge your worries and fears, you’ll develop a more balanced perspective.
Stop worry by questioning the worried thought:
- What’s the evidence that the thought is true? That it’s not true?
- Is there a more positive, realistic way of looking at the situation?
- What’s the probability that what I’m scared of will actually happen?
- If the probability is low, what are some more likely outcomes?
- Is the thought helpful? How will worrying about it help me and how will it hurt me?
- What would I say to a friend who had this worry?
Cognitive Distortions that Add to Anxiety, Worry, and Stress
|All-or-nothing thinking – Looking at things in black-or-white categories, with no middle ground. “If I fall short of perfection, I’m a total failure.”|
|Overgeneralization – Generalizing from a single negative experience, expecting it to hold true forever. “I didn’t get hired for the job. I’ll never get any job.”|
|The mental filter – Focusing on the negatives while filtering out all the positives. Noticing the one thing that went wrong, rather than all the things that went right.|
|Diminishing the positive – Coming up with reasons why positive events don’t count. “I did well on the presentation, but that was just dumb luck.”|
|Jumping to conclusions – Making negative interpretations without actual evidence. You act like a mind reader, “I can tell she secretly hates me.” Or a fortune teller, “I just know something terrible is going to happen.”|
|Catastrophizing – Expecting the worst-case scenario to happen. “The pilot said we’re in for some turbulence. The plane’s going to crash!”|
|Emotional reasoning – Believing that the way you feel reflects reality. “I feel frightened right now. That must mean I’m in real physical danger.”|
|‘Shoulds’ and ‘should-nots’ – Holding yourself to a strict list of what you should and shouldn’t do and beating yourself up if you break any of the rules|
|Labeling – Labeling yourself based on mistakes and perceived shortcomings. “I’m a failure; an idiot; a loser.”|
|Personalization – Assuming responsibility for things that are outside your control. “It’s my fault my son got in an accident. I should have warned him to drive carefully in the rain.”|
3. Be aware of how others affect you
“Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” 1 Corinthians 15:33
How you feel is affected by the company you keep, whether you’re aware of it or not. Studies show that emotions are contagious. We quickly “catch” moods from other people—even from strangers who never speak a word (e.g. the terrified woman sitting by you on the plane; the fuming man in the checkout line). The people you spend a lot of time with have an even greater impact on your mental state.
- Spend less time with people who make you anxious. Is there someone in your life who drags you down or always seems to leave you feeling stressed? Think about cutting back on the time you spend with that person or establish healthier relationship boundaries. For example, you might set certain topics off-limits, if you know that talking about them with that person makes you anxious.
- Choose your confidantes carefully. Know who to talk to about situations that make you anxious. Some people will help you gain perspective, while others will feed into your worries, doubts, and fears.
4. Practice mindfulness
“And do this, understand the present time.” Romans 13:11
Worrying is usually focused on the future—on what might happen and what you’ll do about it. The centuries-old practice of mindfulness can help you break free of your worries by bringing your attention back to the present. In contrast to the previous techniques of challenging your anxious thoughts or postponing them to a worry period, this strategy is based on observing and then letting them go. Together, they can help you identify where your thinking is causing problems, while helping you get in touch with your emotions.
- Acknowledge and observe your anxious thoughts and feelings. Don’t try to ignore, fight, or control them like you usually would. Instead, simply observe them as if from an outsider’s perspective, without reacting or judging.
- Let your worries go. Notice that when you don’t try to control the anxious thoughts that pop up, they soon pass, like clouds moving across the sky. It’s only when you engage your worries that you get stuck.
- Stay focused on the present. Pay attention to the way your body feels, the rhythm of your breathing, your ever-changing emotions, and the thoughts that drift across your mind. If you find yourself getting stuck on a particular thought, bring your attention back to the present moment.
Using mindfulness meditation to stay focused on the present is a simple concept, but it takes practice to reap the benefits. At first, you’ll probably find that your mind keeps wandering back to your worries. Try not to get frustrated. Each time you draw your focus back to the present, you’re reinforcing a new mental habit that will help you break free of the negative worry cycle.
“Do not worry about tomorrow… Each day has enough trouble of its own. “ Matthew 6:34
In the next post, we’ll look more what Jesus says about worry.
Source: adapted from http://www.helpguide.org/mental/anxiety_self_help.htm
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