Letting Yourself off the Hook
It's very common for us to get stuck thinking about bothersome trains of thought, simply because we don't feel we have the right to let them go. We can over-analyse work or family problems - even those that we might have resolved - and find that we're running constantly through possible outcomes and scenarios of 'What if...?' needlessly for hours or days on end. We might even sometimes hold onto a worry because we feel obliged to continually punish ourselves by keeping that thought prominent in our minds. Just letting go and allowing yourself to stop thinking about stressful things is perhaps the hardest part of overcoming chronic worrying.
When is enough, enough?
Few problems are solved by continual and unremitting worry about them, and most people will benefit from stepping back from their thoughts for a while to get a better perspective on them. Learn to let go from time to time, even at your points of most stress, as it will help you become more objective and rational about the things that are making you anxious. If you are worrying constantly and feel that it really is a necessary part of overcoming your situation, set yourself a timetable where you give yourself at least ten minutes rest in each hour.
Time of Day
Worries are enlarged or diminished by the constant variation in hormones and blood sugar level we all go through, every moment of our lives. Know that the time of day that you worry at plays a key role in how deeply and for how long you'll feel the effects of that worry. Something which is perhaps simply annoying to someone at 3 o'clock in the afternoon can seem overwhelming to them at, say, 3 o'clock in the morning. Many people suffer from 'night madness' too, where their thoughts, rational thinking and even personality will change considerably from around 6 in the evening, and stay that way for the rest of the night. This is characterised by bad, impetuous decisions, or again, feeling much more strongly pressured by worries. Understanding this, reminding yourself that the things that worry you now may not have the same effect later or earlier in the day, helps put them in perspective and shows that it may not be just the worries themselves that are making you anxious.
Blood Sugar Levels
Blood sugar plays a key role in mood, and is particularly responsible for sudden periods of fatigue and depression. At its extreme it will lead to profound anxiety and completely irrational thinking. Low blood sugar from not eating enough, or not the right things, affects us all at some point in the day, usually in the last hour or two before a regular meal. Eating too much is just as bad as eating too little, and will cause sudden peaks and drops in your blood sugar levels that will create a cycle where, unless you're eating high sugar/fat foods constantly, you feel depressed. If you're regularly bothered by worrying and anxiety, or have recently become prone to it, check out your diet as the first possible cause.
Few things have such an immediate effect on mood and well-being than regular exercise. Exercise helps burn off adrenalin and other chemicals in your blood stream that lead to anxiety. It also promotes better oxygen intake and the release of feel-good endorphins into your system that will help you feel happier and in a much better position to cope with your worries and stresses. However, remember point one, that you have to allow yourself to let the exercise do its job, and not spend the entire time you're exercising locked into your worries.
Missing even a couple of hours sleep in one night is enough to make many people irrational and anxious. Is your sleeping pattern what it could be? Avoid eating large meals and/or alcohol before bed time, as these will both tend to interrupt normal dreaming sleep patterns and reduce the healing properties of your night's sleep.
Although it may usually be your first port of call to help pull yourself out of depression and worry, alcohol is a double-edged sword that only reduces anxiety temporarily, and which is actually a depressant once the first effects of it have worn off. One night of binging in an effort to forget may increase your worrying, and decrease your ability to cope with it, considerably the following day.
Learn to relax. Relaxing doesn't just help you physically, but mentally too, as it helps slow down thoughts and makes them seem far less intrusive. Relaxation seems to work at its best when it's been turned into a familiar pattern by the user, a sequence of set events rather than just trying to relax randomly. Bearing this in mind, try to find a good relaxation system (see my book 'Brainworks' for more on this) and use it regularly. Explore Tai Chi, meditation, Chi Kung, hot baths, even embroidery - it doesn't matter what you choose as long as you feel it helps you achieve some level of relaxation.
Filling the Void
Once you have relaxed, exercised, or simply talked yourself out of your worries, be careful - the void left by them has to be filled with something, otherwise you're going to slip back into thinking about whatever's troubling you by default. Once free of disturbing thoughts, get a replacement for them as quickly as you can. Ideally, choose pursuits that need continual attention from you - like singing, dancing, some sports, writing, or even chatting to someone. Avoid those things like fishing, driving, doing jigsaws, housework, etc. - that can be done whilst thinking of other things. Don't give your worries room to reappear within.
On the whole, negative thoughts can only be overcome by equal and opposite positive, or distracting, thoughts. Choose your replacement for worrying carefully!