Now, more than ever, people are utilising new techniques to manage a multitude of worries. While we are all weathering the same pandemic storm, our experiences of it, and our interpretations, will vary greatly. Neill Boddington is a Mental Health Adviser at The Open University. Here are his top tips for managing worries…
Visualise your stresses and worries as thoughts floating inside a bubble in front of you… some of them you can blow away on the wind and others you burst and let fall to the ground.
Writing down our worries, fears and stressors can help to get them out of our head. We can then reflect on them and set actions and an appropriate time to resolve them. Any worries can be scrunched up and the paper your worry is written on thrown away as if you are throwing that worry out of your mind. This can be very useful if you’re having problems sleeping with thoughts going around your head.
3. Limit your exposure
Don’t fertilise your Coronavirus (or other) worries by seeking out news story after story and especially not on social media. Limit the time spent reading up what worries you and only get your information from reputable sources such as national news channels.
If you are experiencing unhelpful thoughts, then trying to reframe them by the catching it – check it – change it approach.
- Catch it – recognise early when you are having a negative thought.
- Check it – consider what evidence you have for this though and challenge it. A tip to help with this is to imagine you are offering advice to a friend who has the same problem.
- Change it – Try to change the thought for something positive, reflect on the catch it and check it stages and try to encourage positive feelings.
5. Change ‘cannot’ to ‘can’
When faced with challenging times, like we are now, it is easy to focus on what we cannot do. Instead look positively and think about what we can do. That might be the things that are unaffected, the opportunities this situation can create… such as time to get those long-standing tasks done, or to look for benefits such as more time with the family.
6. Hypothetical versus practical
Worries can be placed into one of two categories – hypothetical worries or practical worries.
- Hypothetical worries are ones that currently do not actually exist and at best only might happen. They are ‘what its’, not based in evidence and sometimes irrational.
- Practical worries are actual problems. They are specific, defined and often happening right now.
- We can use various techniques (discussed here) to try to limit our thoughts around hypothetical worries.
- To help be more action oriented around practical worries, try reframing how you feel about it like this:
Instead of saying “I am worried about…….” (this kind of thought just leaves us stuck with the worry), try; “If I care about…….” This rephrasing can help to encourage positive actions because this is now not a worry but something you care about and is important to you.
7. Remove – reduce – reconsider
Stress can sometimes leave us grounded and unable to think clearly, act rationally and resolve the problem. To help create a starting point to focus on dealing with the cause of the stress, think about how you can ‘remove – reduce – reconsider’ the stressor.
- Remove – Can I take my exposure of the stressor completely away? If so…how? An example of this is removing yourself from an argument.
- Reduce – How can I break this problem down into smaller pieces or to limit my exposure to it? You can also reduce its effects by developing personal skills to better handle it when it comes up. Finally, could anyone else take some of the load to lower how much you have to carry?
- Reconsider – This is when we work to change our mindset around the stressor….to learn to accept things, to find ways to manage our stressful emotions and to have effective coping strategies.
When you are frequently having stressful and worrying thoughts, consider what your actual level of practical engagement is in that thought or stressor. Ranking it from low to being highly engaged.
- Low engagement – this is when someone has no stress processing, a ‘head in the sand’ approach and avoidance of the issues.
- Medium engagement – Someone here is mostly ruminating thoughts around and around their head. Constantly thinking about it but never actually engaged enough to do something practical about it.
- Highly engaged – The person here has found ways to process their stress, either by dealing with the problem (root cause solving) or by positively managing their feelings and coping with it (emotions focused coping)
Find out more:
- Read student to student advice on studying with mental health issues
- Try some of our FREE mental health courses on OpenLearn
- OU academics offer advice on how to get mental health support
- Why exercise helps with mental health
- 8 ways to create a happier mindset
- 7 mindfulness exercises (and some mythbusters too)