22nd July 2018
Always worrying about things? Kelly Swingler, author of our popular book “Overcoming Stress“, explains how you can change that:
I’ll let you into a secret. It’s not the events in our lives which cause stress but our own reactions to them and how we think about them, rather than the events themselves.
If we have a negative thought it’s converted into anxiety and one of the most common ways we create anxiety is by negatively forecasting the future; for instance believing that you’ll be single for the rest of your life or that you’ll lose your job. Things which haven’t actually happened yet.
Our minds can’t tell the difference between imagination and reality. To try this out close your eyes, take a couple of deep breaths and imagine you are in your kitchen at home. On the worktop in front of you is a bowl of bright yellow lemons. You pick one up, hold it to your nose and breathe in the lemony scent. You place the lemon on the worktop next to you, grab a knife and chopping board and start to slice the lemon. Think about putting a slice in your mouth.
I can’t do that exercise without a tension in my jaw from the sourness of the lemon. Thinking about a situation can cause your body to react as if that situation is actually happening.
It’s the same with worry and stress. If you believe things are going to go badly you’ll create stress which will be just as real as if those things were actually happening.
In order to reduce the worrying you’ll need to address your negative thought patterns. There’s no point in worrying about things which haven’t happened yet, and worrying won’t stop them happening anyway! Now you might think changing thought patterns sounds difficult, and at first it may be challenging, but with time and practice it can be done.
Becoming more aware is the first step. Each time you catch yourself thinking or speaking negatively about the future ask yourself why you are doing this.
Also, when you find yourself thinking negatively about things which might happen, ask yourself what’s the worst that can happen, and I mean the worst possible scenario. In some cases it won’t actually be that bad, and in other cases it will be so far-fetched you might well realise it’s pretty unlikely. Then take time to consider the best case scenario too.
When I first started my company I was asked to speak at an event, something I had always done and always loved, but never just as me; I had previously always been speaking as a representative of a big, respected brand. I got myself so stressed about it on the journey to the event that I was tempted to turn the car round, go home and make an excuse such as illness so I that I didn’t have to attend. Instead, I considered the worst case – messing up what I was going to say – which actually wasn’t that bad, and the best case, which included new clients, a milestone speaking event as me, increased confidence and potential new speaking opportunities. I continued my journey, delivered my presentation, got some amazing feedback and two new clients.
Be aware of what is triggering your own anxiety about certain situations, take time to consider the best and worst outcomes, and you’ll start to take a more realistic, positive view of the future. Over time the old negative thought patterns should happen less and less.
Now, if you’re worrying about something over which you have control, then take control and change it.
For instance, as a business owner I can spend time worrying about where my next client is coming from or I can take action to find that client. And if what I do doesn’t work then I’ll need to try a different approach.
Worrying about my weight is also no good for me. If I’m not happy with my weight I am better off directing my energy into making better food choices and doing some exercise than I am worrying about how I look.
Take action to change what you can change.
Finally, every negative thought we do have is accumulated and stored. I call this storage place our stress bucket. Thankfully, we do have a method for emptying this bucket: the phase of sleep known as rapid eye movement – REM. During this type of sleep we re-run events of the day and change them from emotional memories to narrative memories. Memories we have control over.
For instance, someone upsets you one afternoon and you are still thinking about it when you go to bed. When you wake in the morning you might well have forgotten about the incident, or if you haven’t you will at least feel better about it. Remember the saying ‘I’ll sleep on it’? That relates to the therapeutic benefit of sleep.
If you need to improve the quality of your sleep here are some things to try:
I like to think that I wake up every morning with my stress bucket emptied so that I can start the new day without stress, anxiety, anger, depression or fear and you can too if you get regular, good quality sleep.
For more great advice from Kelly take a look at her book “Overcoming Stress“.