I tend to let myself worry worry about everything. This wasn’t always the case, but something changed as I got older. It could be a dozen unread emails in my inbox, a disagreement with my partner, or simply finding a trustworthy friend to watch my dog for a long weekend, and still feelings of dread creep from the back of my mind. I know it’s not worth losing sleep over every little thing, but I wish I knew how to worry less and tame toxic thoughts.
If you’re a worrier too, clearly you’re not alone. And there’s an explanation behind why we do it. The first is more general. Licensed psychologist Seth J. Gillihan, PhD, put it perfectly to Psychology Today: A lot of the time, we have no control over the future. No matter how much you plan, you can still miss a flight or do something wrong at work. “When we have a hard time living with this uncertainty, we might return to the situation in our mind and keep turning it over, imaging every ‘what if’ and how we might handle it—we’re trying to control an uncontrollable situation,” he says.
Unfortunately, even though those worries feel valid in the moment, they come back to bite you in the butt. “Each time we worry and nothing bad happens, our mind connects worry with preventing harm. Worry = nothing bad happens,” he says. Even though you might not be aware of your mind making the connection, you subconsciously think it’s a good thing you worried, giving you all the fuel you need to keep doing it over and over again. Worrying can also be part of generalized anxiety disorder, where you worry or feel anxious all day, every day—something that can get in the way of living your life.
While psychologist Adam Borland, PsyD, told the Cleveland Clinic a manageable amount of worry can help prepare you for the challenges of daily living and help with the problem-solving process, a lot of worry can lead to everything from poor sleep and irritability to cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The good news there’s a great way to put your worries to rest to find out if they’re worth the stress or not: the 10-10-10 method.
What is the 10-10-10 method?
The Life Pro Tips subreddit always comes through with game-changing advice, and one user recently posted a whammy to help worriers. The 10-10-10 method is simple. When you’re worrying, you take a step back and ask yourself a series of questions: Will it matter in 10 days? 10 months? 10 years? Then once you really think things through, you’ll realize most of the things you’re worrying about aren’t worth worrying about and are causing you unnecessary stress.
Think about it: How many times have you looked back and laughed over how much energy you put into worrying about something that had little consequence for the future? Most of what you’re stressing about now won’t make much of a difference in your life, and so it’s not worth your time now. When you stop worrying about the small things, you’ll actually have the energy to tackle the big things that will matter in 10 days, 10 months, and/or 10 years.
Let’s try it out. For example, let’s say you stumbled all over your words when giving a presentation at work. In the moment, those worries are flowing like crazy… you might feel embarrassed and can’t stop thinking about what your coworkers could be saying about you. But guess what? That tiny mistake won’t matter in 10 days or 10 months, and it definitely won’t matter in 10 years. Or maybe you’re worrying about buying a house. Those worries are more valid because it’s a huge decision that will affect you in 10 days, 10 months, and 10 years—or longer.
Basically, the 10-10-10 method is there to help you figure out when worrying about something is worth it, and when you might want to take a deep breathe and move on. (And save those worries for something else.)
Other tips that will help you worry less
1. Schedule time to worry
Instead of allowing yourself to worry all day, schedule in a specific time you can freely worry about anything and everything you want. Elana Cairo, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist, says it can lessen the influence of those worries on the rest of the day.
2. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness exercises like meditation can be great for learning how to clear your mind of worries. “Even if you’re someone who’s like, ‘This is not for me,’ I would say just try it,” says Dr. Cairo. “They actually guide you in noticing your thoughts and hopefully accepting them and letting them go—which is very hard to do on your own.”
3. Get into running
While every type of exercise has its benefits, running is considered a “green exercise”—aka a workout that’s done outdoors. Those distractions can be really great for your worrying. “Green exercise requires us to use other parts of our brain. I’m looking for cars, other pedestrians. I’m running off of a trail, which means I’m using all of these other senses to know how the terrain changes,” says Kevin Gilliland, PsyD. “When we do that, we allow that anxious part of our brain to cool off and rest. That, neurochemically, is beneficial, because it’s not overheating with worry.”
4. Start your day with a worry journal
If you tend to be most worried in the morning when everything comes rushing to your head after waking up, start your day with a worry journal. “Once they write [their worries] down, it’s out of their mind and they can move on with their day,” says Gail Saltz, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry. Or, if your worries are about all the things you need to get done, draft up a to-do list you can follow. By writing everything down on paper, you’ll immediately get a little relief.
5. Reframe the way you see worrying
Whenever Thea Gallagher, PsyD, starts worrying about something, she tries to put herself on a specific thought path. First, she asks herself if she can solve the problem. Then she asks herself what she can do about it, if anything. “If I can’t do anything about it, I can’t worry about it. There’s no point,” she says. Once you realize that, the worry has a better chance of fading away.
Can’t remember if you unplugged your flat iron? This smartphone hack will straighten out your worries. Also, here’s how to trust your gut when you struggle with anxiety, according to mental health experts.
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