Image by Steve Lathrop
These are indeed troubled times. Between covid19, politics, Black Lives Matter, and the upcoming election, there is not a lot of uplifting news to be had. Actually, the opposite is true. It's easy to get discouraged and freaked out.
Knotted up. Frozen. Agitated. Your mind catapults itself anywhere, backwards, forward, or out into the wild blue yonder, but never resides in the present. Worry and overwhelm are two common symptoms that indicate you are in the grip of your fear.
If you follow the advice offered here, you can live in each moment and stay specific, hold on to what you know is true in your heart, surrender to what is, and engage in life fully. Prepare to relish each moment with faith, from a centered place of trust and serenity, freely expressing awe, enthusiasm, and creativity.
Focusing on “what ifs,” what might happen, and feeling a need to control, are classic symptoms of worry. We "futurize" or fixate on times yet to come or "pasturize" by dragging in examples of what happened in the past into the present. Or we leap to doom and gloom outcomes.
By entertaining worst-case scenarios, we’re sacrificing our health and well-being. We fuel feelings of nervousness, and are preoccupied and scattered. Worry interferes with our ability to relish the moment and truly enjoy our lives.
What happens? We tighten up and obsess about things out of our control or yet to come. Our minds and bodies spin. We become distracted from fully experiencing the present moment and don't feel calm and relaxed. We don’t trust we can handle what is presented. We lose sleep. We obsess about things in the future.
Underneath worry is the emotion of fear, especially unexpressed fear. And if we think about the physiology of fear, it is agitated. We experience this agitation not only physically, but also mentally as our minds are intimately connected to our bodies. Being worried all the time takes its toll.
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How To Stop Worrying About Stuff
There are several things you can do to curtail worry.
1. Shiver away your fear.
Since the root of our worries is the emotion of fear, if we express the emotion physically and naturally, both our bodies and minds will calm down. Instead of feeling tense and tightening up your muscles, release the fear using your body. So when you notice you're worrying, let your body do what's natural: wiggle, jiggle, shudder, tremble, and quiver - like a dog at the vet or someone in a state of shock. It may sound strange at first, but if you physically express the emotional energy with vigor - up the spine, out the arms, hands, legs, and in the neck and jaw - it will move out of your body and you'll quickly feel more calm, centered, and focused. Do it hard, fast, and with abandon.
While shivering, be sure you don't fuel your worry thoughts. Just remind yourself: "It's okay to feel scared. It's okay. I just need to shiver."Shiver for as long as you can, repeatedly, especially whenever you notice you are worrying. !t is amazing how quickly it brings you back to the present.
2. Stop letting your mind run wild.
The constant thoughts and chatter running through your head exacerbate your feelings of anxiety and pressure. Interrupt those thoughts and replace them with a reassuring and calming statement. Just select two or three simple truths that contradict your destructive thinking and repeat them over and over, whenever you start to worry, while you are shivering, or anytime:
Everything will be all right.
I’ll handle the future in the future.
Be here now.
One thing at a time.
I’ll do what I can, and the rest is out of my hands.
Worrying doesn’t help. It doesn't make me happy.
3. Stay in the now.
Alternatively, when you notice you’re worrying, grab a few minutes to do something that gives you a break and brings you into the now. Connect with your physical surroundings and pay attention to your senses. For instance, sit with what you’re experiencing in your body and befriend the internal sensations. Take a couple of full deep breaths. Take a few minute walk. Take a brief snooze. Play a game of solitaire. Throw water on your face. Do some jumping jacks.
4. Just tackle those issues.
Make a list of what needs attention, prioritize items, breaking big jobs into small pieces, then do what’s next, focusing on one thing at a time. See point #3 in "Overwhelm" (below) about how to do this.
5. Kick worry to the curb.
If you must worry, designate ten minutes a day to indulge it. For the rest of day diligently interrupt thoughts that take you out of the present, and shiver.
As you surrender to attending to what is in your control right now, you will start to feel calmer, more content and worry less. You’ll be able to enjoy the present moment and feel more peace. Your mind will take a needed rest and you will no longer have the feeling of agitation throughout the day. You'll live in the now of simplicity, order, and flow, realizing that this moment is a "perfect moment." You’ll start to feel more trust and have faith you can handle whatever comes your way.
Overwhelm is what happens when we have too much input coming in and we get overloaded. It’s easy to lump everything together, distorting the significance in the grand scheme of things. Becoming preoccupied with what needs to be done, should be done, or what we hear in the news, we either run around like a chicken with its head cut off or become immobile and hide our heads in the sand.
Typically, we leap from specifics that need attention to global generalities. We default to exaggerations and drama, limited only by our imagination. Small things become earth-shattering and nearly impossible to do. We feel like we’re in a pressure cooker, calling ourselves "stressed out."
What is the price we pay? We lose perspective. It’s difficult to enjoy the journey or present moment when entertaining thoughts about the implications for the future. In addition, we lose efficiency. And because our minds are racing, we can’t hear what other people are saying and lose personal connection. Small things become big deals, causing other people to feel nervous, anxious, or unsettled in our presence.
And what emotion drives the feeling of overwhelm? Fear. And what emotion eludes us? Peace.
How to STOP Feeling Overwhelmed
1. Move the emotional energy physically.
As with worry, to get the upper hand on overwhelm, you must move the fear energy out of your body by shivering, shaking, trembling, and quivering with vigor. Think of a swimmer before a big competition or a person addressing an audience of 5000. Though it sounds silly, you can restore calm and clarity by shivering and reminding yourself, “It’s okay. I just need to move this energy out of my body.”
2. Think supportive thoughts.
It's common when we're feeling panicked to fuel our fear with words like "always" and "never," as in "I'm always failing," or "I'll never get this done." Interrupt such thoughts about the future and past, and other over-generalizations that distort and magnify the problem. Instead, stay present and be specific. Don't allow yourself to entertain thoughts about everything at once.
Help yourself by picking one or two phrases that resonate and say them often, especially when you start getting agitated and stressed.
One thing at a time.
Little by little.
3. Break the big into small doable steps.
If you feel overwhelmed by the political situation, do what is in your control, and then let go. Limit the amount of information you take in and instead focus on doing what will brighten up your day and contribute to the betterment of your community.
If you are overwhelmed by your responsibilities, make a list of issues and projects that need your attention. Then break big topics into a series of simple little pieces so you can attend to one manageable thing at a time.
The key to minimizing fear and life's tasks is to take the time to get organized everyday. For each task you take on, start by articulating your goal. With that in mind, break the desired goal into a series of little doable steps. Consult your intuition to clarify priorities.
Each step must be made small enough so you know you can finish it. Shiver if you feel stuck and break down the task even more.
If you keep an ongoing list of exactly what needs to be done by when, you can evaluate what's most important and essential for today. Put your list in an obvious place so you can see it. Then just do what's next.
Check in before accepting additional responsibility, saying "no" won’t be end to the world. Renegotiate what’s not possible, delegating tasks as necessary.
Praise yourself lavishly as you complete each little step and then attend to what’s next. Keep interrupting the inner critic and instead offer yourself appreciations. "I'm doing the best I can. " "I did good."
One Peaceful Step at a Time
Little steps are the key to heading off feeling overwhelmed and taking charge of your life and your interactions with others. You can deal with specifics in conversations and within yourself, to produce clarity and feel centered. When you think in specifics and deal with concrete issues, you’ll feel calmer, get more done, enjoy what you’re doing.
Your life’s tasks are easier to handle because you know the secret is to break down big deals into small steps. With your new motto, “little by little” you can truly accomplish almost anything with a clear, present, and peaceful mind. You'll find that you enjoy whatever your day brings and can willingly participate with humor and equanimity. Acknowledge and appreciate yourself for bringing more peace and enjoyment to your life.
©2020 by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.
All Rights Reserved.
Book by this Author
Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life
by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.
With practical tools, real-life examples, and everyday solutions for thirty-three destructive attitudes, Attitude Reconstruction can help you stop settling for sadness, anger, and fear, and infuse your life with love, peace, and joy.
For more info and/or to order this book, click here.
About the Author
Jude Bijou is a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT), an educator in Santa Barbara, California and the author of Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life. In 1982, Jude launched a private psychotherapy practice and started working with individuals, couples, and groups. She also began teaching communication courses through Santa Barbara City College Adult Education. Visit her website at AttitudeReconstruction.com/