Listen: Leisa Aitken on Breaking The Worry Cycle
Ever catch yourself worrying to much? Fretting about things like relationships, work and health is part of the human condition. But if your worries are causing anxiety, a lack of concentration, muscle tension, and even insomnia, that’s when your worrying is doing more harm than good.
Good Worry Versus Bad Worry
Mild worrying, the kind that sees problems in advance and solves them before they happen, can be productive. But picturing the worst case scenario – a habit that psychologists call “catastrophizing” – is an unhealthy form of worry, according to pyschologist Leisa Aitken.
“This can narrow our thinking, which reduces our ability to actually creatively problem solve,” Ms Aitken said in an interview with Hope Media. “Research shows that if you indulge in lots of thinking about worst case scenarios, you’re actually less likely to cope well, than if you don’t.”
If this is you, take heart! There are some simple yet effective techniques that we can all put into practise, to worry less and experience more peace.
1 – Catch Your Worries Early
The first step is to take notice of your thoughts, and when your worrying starts.
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“Often our thinking takes us captive, and before you know it you have spent 10 or 15 minutes on a topic in your head and end up really upset,” Ms Aitken said. “This is about taking your thoughts captive rather than letting them catch you.
“If you’re starting to feel anxious, and getting a few physical symptoms, think to yourself, ‘hang on, was I just worrying?’ Try to catch what you’re thinking.”
2 – Practice Mindfulness
Next, take your mind off the troubles and focus on more peaceful things. A good way to achieve this is with Mindfulness exercises, such as “Notice Five Things” – in which you purposely look for groups of five things in your physical environment.
For example, look for five white cars on the road, or five green things on your desk. Or if you’re outside, look for five different colours in the sky, five different kinds of leaves on trees, or notice five different sounds.
“It’s a circuit breaker for that loop of worry, that gets you out of your head and into the real world,” Ms Aitken said.
3 – Write Your Worries Down
If you’re a midnight worrier, sit a notepad and pen by your bedside. Then, if you find yourself fretting in the middle of the night, write your troubles down.
Then, stop thinking about the issue and give yourself permission to revisit it tomorrow, when you can think about it for 5 or 10 minutes maximum. This can help you go back to sleep.
4 – Talk It Over
At times we all have issues that need to be problem-solved.
But if you’re a worry-wort, it can be better to talk an issue through with someone you trust, rather than going it alone. Phone a friend, or talk to a pastor or counsellor.
“You’ll find you’ll be more creative and flexible in your thinking,” Ms Aitken said
5 – Recognise The Things You Can’t Control
Sometimes the things you worry about are beyond your control – such as what others think of you, what happens to your children at school, or the weather. Ms Aitken said it can help to simply realise that worrying about these things makes no difference.
“Jesus says, ‘Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his life’”, she said. “We have to remind ourselves of that.”
6 – Turn Your Worries Into Prayers
“Praying and casting our anxieties on God is such an underused resource for worry,” Ms Aitken said.
She said it helps a great deal to articulate what you’re feeling, put it into words, and talk to God about it.
7 – Look At The Big Picture
Ask yourself whether the problem you are worrying about will still be an issue in five years’ time. This is a way of looking at the “big picture” and putting things in perspective.
If you realise that the answer is no, you may feel a lot less worried about the issue.
8 – Remember, God Is In Your Future
If your problem really will be an issue in the long term however, it helps to remember that God is in your future and that you don’t have to solve everything yourself.
“In the world of psychology theres a really big focus on coming into the present – that idea of mindfulness,” Ms Aitken said. “But I think for Christians it’s really important that we know that God is in our future too. Not just in our long term future, as in heaven, but in our lives – next week, and next year, and in five years.
“At times I’ve had post-it notes stuck up all around my house reminding me of the promises of God for my future.”