If you’re a worrywart (like me), fear not. As part of Stress Awareness Month, we’ve caught up with psychotherapist Owen O’Kane, to bring you some simple hacks to help put your mind at rest.
The NHS clinical lead for a mental health service in West London describes the worried mind as exhausting “both mentally and physically as we try to resolve the constant barrage of anxious thoughts that emerge.”
“These thoughts tend to be dominated by a theme of ‘what if ‘ that then leads to a domino effect of catastrophic thinking, physical symptoms of stress and difficulty managing day-to-day,” he says.
Encouragingly, worry can be managed.
Credit: Nicky Johnston
In his new book Ten To Zen, Owen has used a combination of therapeutic models inspired by the latest research in psychology and neuroscience, and his experience as a psychotherapist, to create a mental health workout that shows you how to stop, switch off the anxious part of your brain, restructure unhelpful thought patterns and reduce stress in just ten minutes a day.
“It is worth remembering that your worry doesn’t define you,” Owen adds. “When in worry mode, your brain is simply in threat mode creating a series of thoughts that it thinks will protect you from danger. However, this is often unnecessary.”
Below, Owen shares his tops tips for managing worry.
SIX SIMPLE WAYS TO WORRY LESS
BOUNDARIES AND BALANCE
When we live life in the fast lane without boundaries or a healthy balance of lifestyle choices, we soon become stressed. This leads to greater activity in a part of the brain called the amygdala, often know as our threat centre. When this part of the brain is activated, we worry excessively. The first step to managing this is to create boundaries and balance in your life. Sometimes this involves saying no and making a commitment to take time out for self-care. In my experience stopping and taking 10 minutes out each day can have the most incredibly positive impact on your life. In a short amount of time, you can allow the brain to quieten, leading to calm and rational thinking. It will also allow you time to process events in your life. When we don’t stop to process, our level of distress very often increases.
ACCEPT YOU ARE WORRIED
This may sound like a very odd suggestion but when we fight anxiety and worry or try to push it down, we energise it. Accepting anxiety when it arrives and responding to that part of you with compassion has an immediate soothing impact.
YOU ARE NOT YOUR WORRIES
Many people have patterns of thought that are unhelpful. A recent research study suggests that around 80% of our thoughts consist of negative content. If some of your worry thoughts include exaggerating fears, catastrophising, avoiding people or events, remember that they don’t define you and they aren’t facts…. they are simply thoughts. Learning to restructure these thoughts and just observe them can be incredibly liberating.
DO YOU VIEW ANXIETY AS ‘A GOOD THING?’
Habitual worry can become an automated process but one aspect that is rarely considered is that we can sometimes hold a belief that worry is helpful. This is true to an extent. When we are anxious the brain is managing a perceived threat. For example, if an aggressive dog was approaching, the brain will respond appropriately. The issue is that when the brain is in threat mode regularly, viewing lots of things as a threat, life starts to feel very comfortable. If we hold a belief this is a “good thing”, we help sustain the problem. Holding on to worry is rarely helpful. Learning to make decisions and to let go of worries that don’t warrant attention is crucial.
Everyone has heard the expression “ just take a deep breath.” There is much wisdom in this expression because when we allow ourselves to stop and take a few deep breaths, suddenly our minds become clearer. The neuroscience research around meditation tells us that not only does it physiologically slow down processes in the body, but also it helps to deactivate the hyper vigilant worried mind. A calmer state can be a breath away.
LIVE IN THE MOMENT
This final tip sounds simple, but I know it can be a challenge in our modern busy world. When we spend our time preoccupied with the past, or worrying about the future, we tend to ignore or erode the joy that might exist in the present moment. I truly believe it is possible to make small changes that will help you on the road to living more in the moment. Learning to manage your worry will undoubtedly lead to a calmer, happier life.
More tips on managing worry can be found in Owen’s book Ten To Zen, which is out now.
If you enjoyed this article you might like to read the following: