How to Stop Worrying and Enjoy Life Again (The Beginner’s Guide)

Today, I am going to show you how you can stop worrying and enjoy life again.

In this guide, you’ll learn why you worry and powerful techniques to stop it from ruining your life.

Why am I qualified to teach you this? 

Because I am a chronic worrier who learned how to take my worry from a 10/10 to a bare minimum.

Let’s dive in!

The symptoms of worry

According to psychologytools.com worry is a form of thinking about the future, defined as thinking about future events in a way that leaves you feeling anxious or apprehensive. It is the primary symptom of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

People who worry find it hard to tolerate uncertainty in their life. They are “allergic” to uncertainty. And because most of life is uncertain, they worry about most things in life: from the big things most people worry about, to the small things, like not knowing what to wear. 

WebMD made a list of the symptoms of worry, which include:

  • Restlessness
  • Feeling on edge
  • Irritability
  • A sense of dread
  • Feeling exhausted
  • Headaches
  • Fast heartbeat

Now you know the symptoms of worry, let’s dive into the strategies to stop worrying!

Step #1: Start seeing your worry THIS way

As someone with generalized anxiety disorder (someone who worries most of their day)… I can tell you that I was actively looking for ways to stop worrying.

Before, my strategy to worry less was trying to eliminate every individually worry.

But I can tell you: that strategy didn’t work. Because when you stopped one worry, another one immediately pops up in your head.

It was a time-consuming activity. So… I was looking for new strategies and therefore read Oovercoming worry and Generalized Anxiety Disorder” from Kevin Maeres and Mark Freeston. In this book they gave me a great metaphor for worry.

Traffic.

Worry is like the traffic on a highway. If we want to improve the flow of traffic, we shouldn’t ask each individual driver to keep up with the traffic or skip the highway. This would be impossible, as new drivers enter the road continuously. 

If we want to reduce traffic and improve the flow, we would need to identify what beliefs drivers have that make them choose the highway.

Think of:
“If I take the highway, I’m much faster at work.”
“If I drive to home, I’ll have more flexibility.”
Or: “Taking public transport is too expensive and doesn’t get me where I want to be.”

Can you see that if we could simply change these beliefs, the traffic flow would improve drastically?

That brings me to the following point…

Step #2: You secretly love to worry… that’s why you don’t stop!

In order to worry less and free up more mental space (like the highway example above), we should take a close look at our beliefs about worry.

Why?

Because if you believe that worry helps you with (for example): avoiding danger, solving problems, showing people you care or making your life better… you’ll NEVER stop worrying.

It will be a lot harder to free yourself from worry, unless you challenge your idea that it is useful.

There are several reasons people worry:

  • To find solutions
  • To motivate themselves
  • To protect themselves or others from danger
  • To prevent bad things from happening
  • And to show people we care 

How does this work?

Let me give you an example of a typical belief in each category:

To find solutions: If I worry about this problem, then I know how to deal with it.
To motivate themselves: If I worry about this, then I’ll get it done faster.
To protect themselves or others from danger: If I worry about this now, it won’t surprise me later.
To prevent bad things from happening: If I worry about this, bad things are less likely to happen.
To show people we care: If I worry about my work, I show my boss that I care.

Do you realize that your beliefs about worry, make you worry more? 

And that simply (1) becoming aware of these beliefs and then (2) changing them is a first big step towards worrying less?

What are your beliefs about worry? Hint: they always start with “If I worry about X, then I’ll X”.

But what should we do next with these beliefs?

It is time to question them, like interrogating a suspect at the police station.

Which you’ll learn now in step #3!

worry rules

Step #3: Changing your worry beliefs

Have you found 1-3 beliefs about worry that increase your tendency to worry?

Great!

Let’s take the belief: “If I worry about my work, then I’ll show my boss I care.”

Now is the time to question this belief and its usefulness.

You’ve always used this belief on autopilot and never questioned its usefulness. And because you believed in this belief… you were always looking for clues at work that supported your belief.

If you got a compliment for your boss, because you did something great for the company, you could easily give your worry credit for it, instead of you yourself. 

And that means that your belief: “If I worry about my work, then I’ll show my boss I care” gets reinforced.

But you no longer want to worry that much, which is why we have to change that belief.

So… the first step to changing this belief is to ask yourself the following:

“What can I do instead of worry, to show my boss I care?”

Write down 4-5 things at a minimum underneath your belief to find other great ways to get to the desired result: showing your boss that you care. Do this for the other beliefs as well.

For example, let’s take the worry belief: “If I worry about the safety of my kids, then I’ll show people I am a good parent.”

Besides worrying, are there any other things you can do to show your kids and others that you are a good parent?

If you were hosting a training for parents about ways to show your kids you care… would you explain to them that worry is THE best way?

No, you wouldn’t. 

Make sure you question your beliefs regularly. Make this a weekly exercise and keep your worry beliefs (and the new solutions) in your notes app to grab them whenever you worry.

You’ll quickly notice that your tendency to worry starts to decrease… 

But changing this alone won’t get you far, which is why you need the next step as well!

Step #4: Practice Tolerating Uncertainty

Understand that everyone worries. The only difference is that chronic worriers tend to worry more about everyday things, while others worry more about the big things. 

Why is that? 

Because people who worry a lot have a high intolerance for uncertainty. They find it hard to face uncertainty and believe that their worry actually decreases uncertainty. 

But that way of thinking is flawed. Because worry doesn’t decrease uncertainty: it creates more of it. 

Because spending time in the future and pumping out many “what if scenarios” only promotes uncertainty… and therefore results in MORE worry.

If you are someone who worries a lot, you would benefit from practicing tolerating uncertainty. Because the more uncertainty you are comfortable with, the less likely you are to worry.

You practice facing your fear with exposure therapy

To successfully do this, you have to look at strategies that you are currently using in the hope to decrease the uncertainty in your life.

Think of (1) asking for reassurance (2) scanning for danger (3) avoiding (4) procrastination and (5) overly checking.

Can you identify some areas in your life where you are actively using these strategies to avoid uncertainty?

Take a strategy described above and begin to think about all the situations where this strategy appears in your life. Make a list of all the situations it appears. If you ask for reassurance, this list could look like this:

  • Asking my boyfriend if he still likes me
  • Asking my boss if he approves what I did
  • Asking my boyfriend what he likes to eat

Make a list of 5-10 items and put them in order. Think of them as a ladder and put the toughest one on top and the easiest one first. They don’t have to be about the same topic, as long as it is about asking for reassurance.

Now you want to ask yourself the following 2 questions:

  1. What is the WORST thing that could happen if I stop asking for reassurance?
  2. What is the BEST thing that could happen if I stop asking for reassurance?

Coming up with alternative scenarios is a great way to challenge your belief that asking for reassurance is a great way to eliminate uncertainty… and also worry.

When you wrote these two answers down it is time to practice asking no reassurance. 

To successfully do this I highly recommend reading the following article about exposure therapy.

For example: previously you were worrying about what your boyfriend wanted to eat and asked him for reassurance: what would you like to eat? But now you just make dinner without asking him.

You’ll notice that your anxiety and worry increase a little bit, but the more you practice this weekly, the less anxiety and worry will be present. You show your mind that you are safe, that it can handle uncertainty and that there is nothing to be worried about.  

allowing anxiety

Step #5: Differentiate between these 2 types of worry

Have you done the work to decrease your mental traffic? Have you done the exercise to become aware of your worry promoting beliefs? 

And did you write down some other things you can do besides worrying?

Good, because now we will deal with the worries that remain.

To do this, you have to know the difference between the following 2 types of worry:

Real Event Worry: This is a worry you can do something about. It is solvable. 
Hypothetical Event Worry: This is the worry that is not real, is unlikely to happen and is so far in the future that solving the problem will never work. 

To help you understand the difference, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Where and when is this worry happening?
If the answer is set in the future, like tomorrow, next week or in the far future, then it is very likely that your worry is hypothetical.  

2. How real is the worry?
Can you show your worry to other people? Think of your credit card bill or the hole in your roof that you worry about.

3. Can you take action?
If the worry is about a real event, can you do something about it, instead of worrying? Because if you cannot do something about it, it is likely to be hypothetical.

Why do you need to know this?

Because this determines your next step!

Step #6: Then use the following technique…

After you wrote down a worry you want to solve and determined the type of worry, you can choose the right technique down below.

Real Event Worry Technique

If your worry is about a real event, you want to use the following technique to overcome your worry: problem-solving. 

Because your worry is about something real and solvable that is happening, it most of the time means you can do something about it instead of worrying.

For example: “I worry about the safety of my house.”

This is a tangible, real worry that is based around something real. When this is the case, write down 4-5 action steps you can take to solve that specific worry.

“Going to the store to find new locks…”
“Asking a professional about the safety of our house.”

Etc…

Write down a few action steps you can take if you’re dealing with a real event worry and act on them whenever you can. This is way more productive than simply “worrying”… which is NOT the same as problem-solving!

Hypothetical Event Worry Technique 

Hypothetical event worry is different than real event worry. Hypothethical event worry almost always turns into “horror stories” that contain very vivid images and disturbing thoughts that seem very real and upsetting. They often start out of something small and then telescope into big catastrophes.

These worries are not happening yet and most of the time will never happen. But the problem is that we react to these worries as if they were happening in the present.

At the core of worry lie our dreams, goals and the things we value. The bad things that worries tend to worry about in hypothetical event worry are the things that threaten those dreams, goals and values.

Hypothetical Event worries may seem like individual worries, but they always move around themes when you dig deeper.

For example: (1) being a good parent (2) being a good friend (3) achieving your dreams or (4) being a good coworker.

Their worry spirals out of control, because of all the possible threats to their goal, like being a good parent, which is caused by all the uncertainty in everyday life.

Dealing with hypothetical event worry, means slowing it down and bringing it into focus to see what it contains, instead distracting yourself from it. But this is not what most people do.

According to the book “overcoming GAD” from Kevin Maeres and Mark Freeston, most people use 5 avoidance strategies to deal with hypothetical event worry.

  1. Supression
  2. Distraction
  3. Avoidance of mental pictures in worry (Trying to move away from the pictures in their mind created by worry)
  4. Mental gymnastics – changing the detail of their worry (For example: trying to replace the negative thoughts and pictures by positive ones)
  5. How we act to avoid triggering our worry (Avoiding situations, people, places or objects that are likely to trigger worry)

But using these strategies doesn’t help you to overcome your worry… it only makes it worse. What you should do instead is confront whatever your worry contains. It means slowing down your worry and exploring all the details.

A great way to do this is by writing down your worry in full detail. That way you can look at what it contains from a distance and explore what it contains.

When you write down your worry, ask yourself:

Who is involved in the worry? Is it daytime or night time? What do you do? What do you see and hear? And how are you feeling right now? What goes through your mind?

Write down your worries in the first person and in the present tense. This brings you more close to the experience.

Expect to feel your anxiety and worry rise when you do this… but that’s a good thing! That means that you are doing it correctly, as anxiety and worry is the exact thing we want to evoke.

Why?

Because we want to generate your fears to stay with them until they run out of fuel. Because that way we show our mind we can cope and nothing bad will happen. Because when we avoid our worry, we only confirm to our mind that our worry is dangerous… while it is not.

Don’t take a glance at your written worry… stay with it for a minute or 10 and feel the fear. Don’t try to use the avoidance techniques described above in the hope to escape your feelings or make your practice less intense.

Stay with it, so you can show your mind that nothing bad will happen. Feel the anxiety, which is created by the content of your hypothetical worry (because it poses possible future threats to what you value).

Doing this will not only help you overcome your worry, but also increase your tolerance for uncertainty.

Important: Write down your level of anxiety before and after your practice from a scale of 0-10. Try to stay with your worry, until the intensity is ideally decreased by half.

Worry Journal

Important: This Makes Worry Worse

Factor #1: Pressure

Do you often put yourself under a lot of pressure?

To be the best, to look cool, to perform, to say the right things…

Doing this will drastically increase your tendency to worry. Why? Because you want to do everything you can to make sure you are the best, look cool or do perform.

Putting yourself under a lot of pressure makes you more likely to worry. 

So, my question to you: do you put yourself under intense amounts of pressure?

Factor #2: Uncertainty

Uncertainty is the main ingredient of worry. But it is actually not the situation that causes worry, nor is it the uncertainty. 

It’s your intolerance for uncertainty that breeds worry. 

People who worry less have a greater tolerance for uncertainty. But on the other hand, people who are very intolerant to uncertainty, are more likely to worry. 

It’s like hay fever. The less tolerant you are to pollen, the more likely you are to sneeze.

Therefore, it is very important to use exposure therapy to willfully expose yourself to uncertainty in order to increase your tolerance to uncertainty. This will result in worrying less.

Takeaway

I hope you gained a far better understanding of what worry is, how it happens and how you can stop worrying. Make sure you challenge your worry beliefs and identify which types of worry you deal with to find the appropriate solution.

And of course: don’t put yourself under too much pressure and increase your tolerance for uncertainty. If you want to know more about overcoming worry and anxiety, then watch my FREE Limited Time Training before it expires. 

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About Wouter

Wouter is a mindset coach from The Netherlands. For many years he suffered from depression and anxiety. It gave him the motivation to coach people on freeing themselves from anxiety. With more than 6000 blog visitors a month he helps many people on their journey towards less anxiety.

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