If you worry a lot, you know that anxiety can consume your day. Sadly, when worried, your ability to experience fun, playful times is limited. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
By using ideas from Polyvagal Theory and the Internal Family Systems Therapy Model, I have helped many of my clients who struggle with chronic worry to feel true relief and a genuine sense of calm and playfulness.
Two important points to remember: First, your nervous system is an ancient body system geared toward keeping you and yours safe. Second, your personality has sub-parts, some of which are more burdened by worry than others. In other words, your worry is physical and has good intentions but needs you to support it in healthy ways. No part of you is trying to hurt you.
Let’s see how this works in real life.
Five quick tips to calm down when worried or anxious
Here are five typical worry presentations. Before using each QUICK TIP, breathe and scan your body noticing where you feel the worry sensation and what it feels like. See if you can get a little curious and view worry as physical (rather than mental ) or as a little part of you (rather than all of you).
1. Social worry
Social Worry sounds like this: A lot of times I think I’m having fun when I’m out with people. Then after I get home I start thinking that I was talking too much or said something wrong. I’ll think about a friend looking at me “funny” or that I brought the wrong food or gift. Then I feel awful. How could I be so stupid?
Quick tip to deal with social worry:
Social worry usually arises from a part of you that needs acceptance and comfort. When you notice the worry, take it as an opportunity to offer genuine, kind messages to this part of yourself.
For example, let your worried part know that you know how hard it tries. Ask the part what you could have done to make the time with people more fun. (You’ll be surprised what good ideas you get!)
2. Busy worry
Busy Worry feels like this: I feel like there is some problem that I need to think about. My mind races and races, but I don’t get solutions. One thing will get fixed and the next presents itself. There seems to be no relief. I can’t imagine not feeling like this and the alternative feels like not caring at all. I’m exhausted!
Quick tip to deal with busy worry:
Busy worry is usually protective. You get anxious and charged up in your nervous system and then keep going to avoid any internal fears.
Check your body, slow your breath and notice your exhales especially. Move around, dance, and shake your arms and legs to discharge excess energy.
Imagine a memory, time, place or being you love. Allow this calmer sensation to feel spacious in your body. Take yourself on a fun date, either in your imagination or for real. What would you do if you didn’t have to be so busy right now? Let your mind (or maybe your body) go for it!
3. Performance worry
Performance Worry presents itself whenever the pressure is on. Fear of public speaking is especially common, but very difficult.
It sounds like this: I feel nervous and I think that it shows. When I have to speak in front of groups, I get sweaty and shaky and often forget what I want to say. I hate having to express myself at work, and I avoid speaking up or volunteering my thoughts. It feels so embarrassing.
Quick tip to deal with performance worry::
As you feel the worry and fear before a presentation, ask it to move from your body to sit on your shoulder or to be right beside you. Ask this sensation to provide just enough energy to keep you sharp and focused without taking over.
Remember that your worry may trigger worry in those listening to you. If you need to, name how you’re feeling. This can actually get a shared laugh, allowing your fun parts to enter the room.
4. Developmental worry
Developmental Worry creates a stuck feeling.
Someone experiencing these worries thinks: It’s too overwhelming to face life situations like money, career and a love life, so I just stress about them instead. I get mad at myself for not showing more initiative and motivation. It looks like everyone else is having much more fun.
Quick tip to deal with developmental worry::
Fear in the present can trigger fears from the past and these parts may believe you are much younger than you really are. When feeling this way, it is impossible to move forward. After all, how can an eight-year-old earn a living?
Take a moment to update yourself inside, reminding your parts of your adult age, size and abilities. Let the young part that was trying to do the adult job decide what it would rather do. (Probably rest or play)
5. Anticipatory Worry
Anticipatory Worry functions as a safety plan but preemptively ceases any possibility of fun.
It goes like this: I want to be free, take some conscious risks and trust myself, but I always feel like something could go horribly wrong. I hear a list of how I will fail or have a bad time. I see the downside to everything. It makes me feel grumpy and bored.
Quick tip to deal with anticipatory worry::
Ask yourself what does this doom and gloom naysayer believe would happen to you if it didn’t jump in to warn you in this way? Notice that this part wants to protect you and keep you safe. Thank the part for its service.
Again, you can update this part if it is stuck in the past. Or you can reassure it that you hear its concerns and are up for the challenge. Then welcome your fun, adventurous side and enjoy!
In each example, don’t push yourself. Enjoy just a bit more fun, invite a little more play and celebrate a tad more. As you begin to trust yourself, you can allow even more playfulness into your life.
About the author: Ingrid Helander is a Marriage & Family Therapist specializing in Internal Family Systems Therapy and Intimacy from the Inside Out© Couples Therapy. Trained in Polyvagal Theory and Yoga, she brings a holistic approach to client wellness. More information about Ingrid and her work is available at ingridyhelanderlmft.com as well as her weekly blog and newsletter subscription. She is also the author of Calm Your Worries: Unlock Your Secret Code to Lasting Stress Relief and Self-Confidence.