Everyone deals with some stress, but keeping your stress level under control is important for both your mental and physical health. About 25 percent of Americans experience “a great deal” of stress on a monthly basis, with rates even higher for older adults. Chronic stress increases your risk of conditions such as depression, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, asthma, and gastrointestinal problems. Consequently, reducing stress is one of the healthiest things you can do for both your body and your mind. While it may sound counterintuitive, scheduling a specific time to worry about your problems is an offbeat but very effective way to reduce your stress and clear your mind.
Here’s what to do:
Pick a worry-time when you can be alone in a comfortable place, and in a comfortable posture. Give yourself a finite time frame—from 4 to 4:30, for instance—or on the drive home from work. If you’re not specific, worries will creep in at other times. Make an appointment with worry, just like you would for the doctor, dentist, or hairdresser. Try to make it a standing appointment and do it at the same time every day.
Tell yourself that this is going to be your worry time, and you’re not going to worry about things until that time. If you do find worries crossing your mind before the scheduled time has come, gently push them away. Don’t ignore them, as they’ll only bother you more. Instead, practice positive self-talk and reassurance. Every time a worry pops up, briefly acknowledge it and then alter your thought pattern. Tell yourself, “This is worth paying attention to, but not until X time. X time is the perfect time to devote thought to this situation. Right now, it’s important for me to stay focused on something else.” You may find yourself doing this many times a day in the beginning.
When your worry time comes, stop what you’re doing, sit down, and … worry. Devote this time completely to all of the negative thoughts and fears that you have surrounding your worry. Allow yourself to feel uncomfortable, anxious, and upset as you explore your thoughts. Analyze each aspect of your worry, making sure to think about all of the potential negative outcomes and everything that bothers you about them. Rather than arguing with yourself or trying to convince yourself that everything will be fine, let your worst thoughts have the time you scheduled for them.
Now, don’t you feel better?
In the beginning, you may feel that your worries have control of you rather than the other way around. As you practice your mindful techniques, however, you’ll quickly begin to gain more control and confidence. Setting aside a daily worry time—and sticking to it—can make an amazing difference in your stress levels. In one research review of several dozen studies of patients with anxiety, more than two-thirds of the studies revealed that subjects who practiced daily meditation and mindfulness experienced significantly more anxiety reduction than those who did not, with no ill effects reported.