Do you find yourself lying awake at night, unable to sleep, worrying and worrying? Don’t worry (ha!), worrying actually serves a purpose. It’s our innate reaction to the processing of negative situations and heavy emotions.
Psychologist Ernst Koster often sees people who are stuck in negative thinking patterns, because of excessive worrying. Worrying too much is bad for you, but you can train yourself to change the destructive tendency to worry into a more practical way of worrying. Negativity turns into positive, more constructive thoughts.
These 5 tricks help to become a constructive worrier
Trick 1: Be specific
There’s a difference between worrying until it paralyzes you, and worrying in a useful way. People who worry usefully don’t focus on abstract things, they focus on concrete thoughts. Suppose you’re in a difficult situation. You might wonder: ‘Why does this always happen to me?’ (abstract) or: ‘How can I prevent this from happening next time?’ Concrete worrying is thinking about solutions, abstract worrying often means getting caught up by absolute thinking patterns.
Trick 2: Acknowledge all your emotions
When you’re worrying, try to think about your emotions by specifying them all separately and acknowledging them. It’s as if you’re dividing your emotions, to be able to study them all separately.
When you’re lovesick, there might be a cocktail of changing emotions in your mind that seem to flood you – making you feel very bad. When you specify the emotions, and give all of them a separate ‘room’ -fear, sadness, anger-, we gain an insight in what it really is we’re feeling, and it’s easier for us to process it.
Trick 3: Worry in third person
Koster’s research has shown that when patients tell about an unpleasant memory from their own perspective, negative emotions tend to get the best of them. But when they’re asked to regard themselves as a ‘fly on the wall’ or as a character in a novel, it’s easier to look at a story from different angles.
We can see ourselves as a character that took good and bad decisions, made mistakes, and showed resilience, without judging harshly. After all, don’t we love our flawed heroes in literature? Elizabeth Bennett is stubborn, Harry Potter is impulsive, Tyrion Lannister has a complicated family. Yet they all found their own way.
Trick 4: See your thoughts as random little monsters
During a mindfulness session, negative thoughts are regarded as passing clouds. By letting them float by, you prevent yourself from identifying with negative thoughts about yourself. You learn to see your thoughts as a result of the blabbering of your neurons, instead of ‘taking them in’ and seeing them as fixed truths. Your neurons aren’t priests reciting the truth, they are little monsters driven by glucose who love to be busy.
If you can look at this from a distance, it creates more clarity than when you’re thinking you will be a certain way (difficult, a failure, chaotic) forever.
Trick 5: Bend negative thoughts
Koster concludes that a positive re-framing of a story, is extremely helpful if you want to bend negative thoughts. Positive re-framing means you don’t think of failure or a negative situation as a sign of failure, but simply as something that had to cross your path.
According to writer Daan Heerma van Voss, who talked to many people after losing their job, most people couldn’t go on with their lives until they managed to see the negative situation in a new, positive frame. If they saw losing their job as an obstacle on their paths, they were able to see it as a challenge to go on on their paths.
When something bad happens, ask yourself which lessons you can draw from it and write them down. You’ll see you’ve learned something.
Text: Julia Maria Keers - Photo: Joe Gardner