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Mental Health

How to Stop Worrying About Things You Can’t Control: Experts Share Their 6 Best Tricks

Learn how to tame tension and tap into joy

At times, it can feel like anxiety and uncertainty are just a part of everyday life. A little anxiety is normal, but when it builds up, it can become disruptive and even debilitating. No matter how chaotic the world is and how worried you feel, it’s still vital to find ways to manage your stress and learn how to stop worrying about things you can’t control.

That’s why we went to experts for their tips for taming tension and finding joy, so you can take a deep breath and come back to a sense of calm next time you find yourself spiraling with anxious thoughts. Read on to learn how to take back control and find genuine peace of mind — it turns out it’s easier than you might think.

How to stop worrying: 3 ways to tame tension

1. Shift your mindset

When a “what if” pops into your head, the key is to disengage from it by not giving it urgent attention and not trying to answer it, says psychologist Sally M. Winston, coauthor of Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts: A CBT-Based Guide to Getting Over Frightening, Obsessive, or Disturbing Thoughts and Founder and Executive Director of the Anxiety and Stress Disorders Institute of Maryland.

Winston suggests making an easy “attitudinal shift” by saying, ‘I will think about X while another part of me worries about Y.’ We have a very broad mental bandwidth: We can have a ‘worry channel’ on all the time and not pay attention to it.”.

Related: How to Comfort Someone Who’s Grieving or Sick: Experts Share Best Ways to Show Support

2. Breathe into calm

“There is such a close connection between our physiological and mental states that when our bodies are revved up with worry, our minds are also tense and vice versa,” says Seth J. Gillihan, PhD, psychologist and author of Mindful Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Simple Path to Healing, Hope, and Peace, revealing that he often advises clients to calm their mind and body by taking three deep breaths.

Dr. Gillihan’s easy how-do: Sit up and inhale deeply to help align your posture then exhale slowly; on the second breath, inhale to fill your belly and exhale slowly; on the third breath, inhale deeply to expand your ribs, then exhale slowly once again. He says doing this for just one minute can make a real difference, curbing anxious thoughts and relaxing your whole system.

Related: Bad Day? Psychologists Reveal 10 Simple Ways To Bounce Back from a Setback

Woman meditating on couch to learn how to stop worrying about things you can't control

3. Lean on spirituality

Giving your worries over to a higher power immediately helps alleviate the burden on your shoulders, says Marybeth Wuenschel, minister and author of Your Thoughts are Killing You: Take Control of Your Mind and Close the Door to Depression, Anxiety and Those Fearful, Worrisome Thoughts Forever.

“My favorite strategy for shifting out of anxious thoughts is called ‘PR, PR, PR’: problem, prayer, proclamation,” Wuenschel says. State your problem, such as, “I’ve lost my job,” then say a prayer, like, “Lord, I believe you are working behind the scenes on my behalf, so I don’t have to worry.” Finally, proclaim your strength, such as, “I am strong in the Lord and His mighty power.” “Repeating these words will allay worries by reminding you that you are powerful; you are loved; you are cherished.”

Related: How to Stop Taking Things Personally: 6 Expert Tips to Build Resilience

How to stop worrying: 3 ways to tap into joy

1. Start problem-solving

Worry isn’t problem solving, but it’s easy to confuse the two, observes Dr. Gillihan. “To help distinguish between productive and unproductive thoughts, jot down two columns,” he suggests.

“On the left, write what you can’t control, such as whether you come down with the flu,” he says. “In the right column, write what you can control, like washing your hands. Whatever’s on the left, let go of, and whatever’s on the right, focus on.” His shorthand to help you remember which is which: “Left means leave it; right means right thing to focus on.”

Related: How to Get Out of a Rut: 6 Expert Tricks That’ll Help You Feel Less Stuck and More Inspired

Woman writing in notebook

2. Savor your strengths

Instead of worrying “what if” something bad will happen, Dr. Gillihan encourages changing your inner dialogue to one of possibilities. “I love the idea of shifting the conversation to, ‘What do I want this day to be?’ Who can I love today? Who can I connect with?’”

He says these are far more important questions because they bring us back our strengths. “There is a horizon that extends far beyond what our minds fear. Most of what we worry about will never happen, and even if it does, remind yourself that you are capable of coping.”

3. Visualize the good stuff

Worries make our imaginations run wild, but it’s easier than you think to take back control of your mental movie screen and picture a better, happier future. “Take a few minutes during the day to visualize what you want in life,” encourages Wuenschel, who says this simple exercise will help you shift into a more hopeful mindset, preventing worries from ganging up on you at night when you’re trying to fall asleep.

“If you want a new car, for example, picture yourself driving it,” she says. “Seeing yourself happy and confident helps ensure that worries lose their power over you. It helps build up the real you, the resilient you.”

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