Pandemics, presidential elections, postponed plans, oh my!

When things look bleak and the future feels uncertain, worries can abound. Will I blow this big meeting? Am I a good parent? Will things ever feel normal again?

Worrying is when you have repetitive, negative thoughts that impact your mood and judgement. Everyone has anxieties and some worry is normal. Your mind is designed to keep you alive and is constantly monitoring for threats. But when you find yourself overwhelmed with nagging thoughts—constantly concerned about the worst possible outcome, unable to sleep, and unusually irritable—it’s time to reassess your current situation and break your cyclical thought patterns.

It may feel like your worries are justified or that you will never be able to let them go, but rest assured that by reframing your point of view and concentrating on the current moment, you’ll improve your mood and suffer from fewer nagging thoughts. Here are a few tips to try: 

  • Write it out. Most of the time, we worry about things that haven’t happened yet, including far-fetched negative scenarios. Try writing out your worry with all its ugly scars and warts, then sit back and ask yourself, “How likely is this to happen?” Try to reframe your worry as a scary, outlandish story, which will take away some of its power.
  • Control and surrender. When you experience worry, acknowledge it. You can even think to yourself, “Hello, worry. I see you are here with me today.” Determine what you can control—your attitude and how you spend your time, for example—and the things beyond your reach—like your boss’ email habits and the course of the pandemic. Write out any proactive steps you can take to address what’s in your control and surrender to the rest
  • Make a to-do list. If you are overwhelmed with tasks at work or home, make a list of the three things you need to get done today. Release yourself from everything else and spend your energy on those three things. Try not to let your mind spin about anything else. Focus on the tasks at hand.
  • Breath into the moment. Since worry is concern about the future, try anchoring yourself in the moment. Do a focus meditation, where you concentrate on texture (like the thread in your sleeve) or an object (like a plant in your apartment). Or pause to take in five red things in your current surroundings. Whatever you do, turn all your attention to something you are experiencing right now and take several, long breaths. 
  • Worries = bubbles. If you’re having nagging thoughts, they can be all consuming. Try imagining them as bubbles. Close your eyes, see the worry bubble, and imagine it floating away. This exercise makes it easier to rid yourself of persistent thoughts. If they come back, just pause and do the visualization again. 
  • One good thing: Do one thing for yourself every day, big or small. When we are consumed with worry, we often cut out selfcare, which leads to more intense feelings of burnout. Set aside 20 minutes each morning to enjoy a cup of coffee or splurge on a new planner. 

Remember that while you are in the midst of worry, it can feel never ending. But by taking steps to break your repetitive thoughts and anchor yourself in the current moment, you will feel better in no time. Don’t forget to be easy and compassionate with yourself throughout the process.