If you ever find yourself lying in bed at night worrying about the future, you’re not alone.
“Worrying about the future is normal and, to some extent, healthy and helpful,” says Dr Tim Sharp (aka Dr Happy), Chief Happiness Officer at The Happiness Institute.
“Thinking about the future allows us to plan and to prepare for what’s to come.”
It’s only when the worrying moves from “realistic and constructive” to “abnormal or unhealthy” that you may need to act, notes Tim.
“If your worry is exaggerated, or what we call ‘catastrophising’ – or is completely out of perspective and impacting on your ability to function – then that can be problematic.”
Fortunately, there are ways you can work on your worrying and gain a more realistic perspective.
Acknowledge your worries
If you’ve ever been told “don’t worry” or to “just push” your worries away, you’ll know that it doesn’t really work.
“In fact, the research suggests this can actually make things worse due to what we call a ‘rebound effect’”, Tim says. “The more a person tries to resist having worrying thoughts, the more these thoughts persist.”
A more effective approach, Tim advises, is to accept anxiety and worrying thoughts – or “let them be” – and then work towards solutions to your worries.
For example, if you’re worrying about financial stress and possible interest-rate hikes, or where your relationship with your partner is headed, acknowledge these worries and accept that they are real and common problems.
The next step is to do what you can to fix the situation. What changes can you make? Is there someone you can go to for help or advice?
Practise relaxation techniques
If you’re finding yourself stressed with worry, relaxation techniques can help calm your mind and body. Some of the most common relaxation techniques include meditation, yoga and deep breathing.
“Different things will work for different people, so my recommendation is usually to try out a few options and find what works for you,” Tim says.
He notes that exercise can be very beneficial. And it doesn’t have to be strenuous exercise – even small amounts or going for a walk can help reduce stress hormones, improve sleep and boost your mood.
Focus on living in the moment
What’s worse than worrying about the future? When you start worrying about the fact that you’re worrying!
Fortunately, mindfulness or being present in the moment, can help break this cycle. Practising mindful meditations, even for a few minutes, can keep you grounded in times of uncertainty by helping you to focus on the “now” rather than what might or could happen.
Tim explains, “In doing so, we can learn to observe our feelings of worry or distress without judgement.”
Make time to reflect on your worries
It might sound strange, but rather than letting your worry linger throughout the entire day, it can be helpful to postpone your worrying to a specific time of the day.
Scheduling a set time – sometimes referred to as “worry time” – for, say, 20 minutes every day can help limit the amount of time you spend worrying.
Use this time to reflect on your worry, write it down and start thinking about what you can do to address and improve the situation. Once you’ve reached the end of your set time, the idea is to hold off on any other worrying until your next allocated slot. If a worry pops into your head before then, write it down for your next scheduled worry time.
However, rather than “worry time”, Tim encourages people to think about this practise as “solution time”.
“Worry really serves no purpose,” he says. “But accepting and reflecting on problems or challenges and trying to generate or come up with solutions … now that can be very useful.”
The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.