How to practise mindful worrying when you have 1,001 thoughts to think about

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At the time of writing, COVID-19 cases have crossed over 47 million, with more than 1 million deaths. This period has indeed been more than a nightmare for many of us, and we think it’s apt to say that 2020 is a year filled with worries.

Health uncertainties, job losses, and constant changes contribute to the 1,001 thoughts we think about. If you find yourself worrying for most of the day, maybe gaining a tip or two from Dr Jenny Taitz, a clinical psychologist, might help. Here’s how to practise mindful worrying.

#1: Observe the thoughts that don’t empower you

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More often than not, we find ourselves feeling dejected after spending some time indulging in our worries. Dr Taitz rightly points out that while we can’t choose what shows up in our minds, we can observe the thoughts that don’t empower.

When a thought like skywriting appears, immediately decide if it’s worth dwelling on. Ask yourself if there’s a solution to solve the problem. If yes, go ahead and take action. If no, stop. Also, be completely aware that this action does not equate to ignoring your worries.

We also understand that sometimes our thoughts get so loud it’s hard to stop thinking about them. Should you face such a situation, maybe turning your attention to watching a short video clip might be useful to help you get back on status quo.

#2: Carve out time to think over things

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Remember that we’re not asking you not to worry. Instead, we’re offering advice on how to practise mindful worrying. Thus, it’s essential to plan a time to worry about things. Sounds ridiculous? Probably yes at first glance but there’s more than meets the eye.

By setting aside a specific time to worry, it can significantly cut hours of intrusive worrying. Dr Taitz shares that scheduling worry is a practice that hinges on behavioural science. It encourages self-monitoring and is a step towards breaking the all-day worry habit.

Rather than switching between half-attended-to thoughts and day-to-day activities, having a ‘worry time’ can be a form of exposure therapy for anxiety. Over time, you will learn to acknowledge that your thoughts and feelings come and go.

#3: Details on planning a ‘worry appointment’
worry list

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With regards to allocating a time to think over things, Dr Taitz advises her clients not do it right before bed or first thing in the morning, particularly for people who tend to wake up in fear or with anxiousness. Start with a session or two of 15-minute ‘worry appointments’.

Decide the specific topics (such as financial or health concerns) for worrying to make sure you thoroughly deal with the possible range of worries. While distressing, write them down and ponder if you’re able to solve them by taking practical steps.

After the ‘worry appointment’ is over, leave whatever leftover thoughts to the next session. Should your mind start playing tricks, and you find yourself close to entertaining those pop-up worries, tell yourself, “It’s OK, you don’t have to do this right now.”

#4: Be fully present outside of worry periods

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Dr Taitz suggests some useful tips to help us stay fully present outside of worry periods. You can schedule rituals like leaving your phone at home before heading for your daily walk or savouring your breakfast without checking the news or replying emails.

Take a study led by two psychologists at the University of California, Los Angeles, for reference. Two groups of participants were asked to listen to a recording on focused breathing and one that provoked worrying respectively.

After the listening exercises, they were then given negative images to view. Compared to the group who listened to the recording on focused breathing, the participants from the worry group responded more negatively.

From this study, we can conclude that worrying is energy-draining than compared to putting our focus on the present. According to Dr Lizabeth Roemer, a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Boston, our minds act on habit. Even in pain, let’s help our minds to cope by practising mindful worrying.

We can do it!


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