Worrying can get the better of almost anybody. Work stresses, personal concerns, and sometimes even irrational thoughts can seep into your mind and interfere with your ability to concentrate on ordinary tasks. Unfortunately, stopping those worries isn't easy--there's no "off switch" that can shut your worried thoughts down. However, there are a handful of habits that, once integrated into your life, can force your worries to leave and free up your mind to focus on more positive, productive things.
If you find yourself excessively worried, try one or more of these habits to relieve yourself.
1. Establish a designated "worry time."
You know you're going to worry about something most days, so instead of letting the worries control your thoughts, set aside time so you can control your worries. Establish a period of time during your day--like between 3:00 and 3:30--that you allow yourself to worry. Some research from Penn State University suggests that setting aside a period like this can help you defer your worries to a later period, freeing up your plagued mind for more productive activity in the present moment. Additionally, you can use that worry time as productively as possible by working to find solutions for your problems, rather than just focusing on the problems themselves.
2. Compile your worries in a list.
Most people encounter worries in groups; instead of just one problem coming across your mind, a dozen separate or related problematic thoughts start nagging at you. When this happens, try writing them down in a list (and don't just list them in your head, either--you'll see why in a moment). This helps reduce your worried thoughts in two ways. First, it forces you to confront and catalog your worries, oftentimes rationalizing them or grouping them so that your six small worries really only boil down to two core ones. Second, it gives you a visualized list of items you're worried about. They'll seem smaller on a sheet of paper, and you'll feel better about whatever it is you're facing.
3. Busy yourself.
This may seem like an obvious bit of advice, but forcing yourself to work on something while you're worried really can make your worried thoughts go away. The key here is to occupy your hands or your mind--preferably both--in some task that requires a level of focus. For example, you could busy yourself with a task you don't mind doing that requires your concentration, or pull up a mobile game on your phone and lose yourself in it. With the right task, you'll surrender your mind in a matter of moments, and your worries will slip away.
4. Talk to someone about something else.
In a similar strategy of distraction, occupy yourself by talking to someone else nearby--it can be anybody, as long as the topic is something other than your worries. Doing so engages the language and emotional components of your brain, forcing you to invest in the conversation rather than the internal conversation that's causing your worries. As long as you can keep this up and keep it interesting for a few minutes, your attention will likely shift to the topic of conversation (and away from your worries).
For meditation to be effective, you have to practice it during moments of calm. Whenever you aren't worried or distracted, find a few minutes to clear your mind. Don't think of anything, and if you find a thought entering your head, calmly acknowledge it and let it go. This level of mindfulness is difficult to achieve, even under perfectly calm circumstances, but with practice, you'll be able to enter that meditation seamlessly. Once you've practiced enough, you'll be able to call on meditation in even the most stressful or worrying situations.
6. Physically exercise.
My guess is you're already well aware of the innumerable mental and physical benefits that exercise provides. It releases serotonin, a "happy" chemical, and reduces stress so you feel better throughout the day. In addition to and in combination with those effects, exercising regularly can decrease anxiety levels, so you literally find yourself worrying less. Exercising in the morning can lead you to fewer worries throughout the day, but if you do find yourself worrying, you can always sneak away for a quick walk or jog around the block to free your mind.
7. Disconnect from your phone and the internet.
Our limitless communications are a major source of worry and anxiety, whether you realize it or not. The constant beeping of incoming emails, calls, and text messages can whip your mind into a worried frenzy, and even innocuous activities like checking your Facebook feed can introduce you to negative news, querulous friends, and event reminders that equally worry you. Don't let these forms of communication interfere with your thoughts. Whenever you can afford to, disconnect entirely--that means turning off your phone and unplugging (or disconnecting from) the internet. You'll feel better afterward. I can almost guarantee it.
I call these "habits" for a reason; while some of them can work in random, one-off instances, the majority of them gain power when you use them regularly as an evasion tactic for worried thoughts. Don't be frustrated or disheartened if you're still affected by worries after using one--instead, try a different strategy and work to integrate both as institutions in your life for a healthier, freer mind.