As much as worry and fear can bring us to our knees sometimes, much of it is probably not really about life changing, catastrophic things but rather…the small stuff. It’s not to say that life doesn’t have a way of hurling incredibly challenging fast balls at us but for the sake of this discussion let’s stay focused on how to stay emotionally regulated and calm during the other times…when we feel taken hostage emotionally by “the small stuff.”
Worry and fear can feel overwhelming and have a way of tricking us into believing that all is lost. These are legitimate feelings! And when our sense of selves get caught up into this, it’s even more complicated. For example, consider how failure for someone who is perfectionistic and believes they MUST do things perfectly might impact them. This is why the “small stuff” can resonate so deeply. It can feel like a threat to our very survival!
Can you relate to any of the following examples?
- “I’m worried about meeting this group of respectable people in my field. What if I don’t measure up?”
- “I’m worried about my blind date tonight. What if he/she doesn’t like me?”
- “I’m worried about my presentation at work tomorrow. What if I fall apart?”
- “I’m worried that my husband/wife won’t like this special meal I cooked for our anniversary. What if he/she is disappointed?
The problem is if you allow your worry to consume you, it is not only distressing but can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Here are 6 ways to stop worrying about the small stuff:
- Stop getting ahead of yourself. If you live as if the future has already happened you are having an emotional reaction (worry) to something that hasn’t happened yet. Practice staying in the moment by trying this:
- Focus on an object in the room with you. Notice it in a way you never have before. What color is it? What shape is it? Is it possibly more beautiful than you realized? Breathe slowly.
- Put your hand over your heart. If you are worried, stressed or fearful, it’s likely your fight or flight system is activated and your cortisol levels are elevated. Oxytocin is an antidote to the stress hormone, cortisol. Many people can release it themselves.
- Place your hand over your heart, close your eyes and imagine someone you feel completely safe with. A beloved pet will work too. As you remember feeling loved, sit with this feeling for at least 30 seconds. Notice the calm.
- Practice self acceptance. Because worry can orbit around an unsure sense of self, it’s important to try shifting your self concept from negative to positive.
- Decide on an affirmation for yourself (ex: I am lovable, I will be ok, etc). Every day, either say this affirmation aloud or in your head to help integrate this belief into your heart and mind.
- Reframe your worry. Remember that your perception drives your worry. You are the only one who can assign meaning to things. So if you assign worry to a lot of things try to practice reframing it to something more productive.
- Consider something you often worry about. Is there another way you can see this situation? For example, if you fear you will not do well on an upcoming exam, what is truly the worst thing that can happen? Is it as “life or death” as your physiological reaction is telling you?
- Find a trusted sounding board. A friend can be called upon to help clarify your thinking. Get someone on your team, explain what you’re working on and how they can help. When you find yourself worrying, call on them to help you process.
- Identify what keeps you stuck – and work on it. If you’ve tried the above suggestions and are not finding relief, a therapist can help you get unstuck. There may be prior experiences in your family of origin that explains why it’s more challenging for you. If going to therapy not an option for whatever reason, try my guide Family of Origin: Untangle Your Unhealthy Roots to help identify, understand and resolve relevant emotional wounds on your own.
Worry and fear are all valid human emotions. But living in a chronic or easily triggered state of either of them can lead to unnecessary suffering. Learning to not sweat the small stuff is a hallmark of resilience and guaranteed improvement in your emotional health as a whole.
Lastly, keep in mind that the above can sometimes spill into true Anxiety which if persistent enough may need additional resources for maximum relief. The above exercises can definitely help but if it’s not enough, find the help you need.8