7 Steps To Stopping the Worry-Cycle For You and Your Teen
Do you have a teen in your life who is a self-confessed ‘worry wart’? Constantly stressing the worst-case ‘what if’ scenario and wasting energy trying to control things that haven’t even happened yet?
Whether we’re a teen or not, I think we all can easily fall into the ‘worry-trap’. That’s why it’s important to know how we can stop ourselves from doing so, and show our teens the power of not draining your brain juice on things you can’t control.
7 steps to defuse your worry when you feel it begin to hijack your sanity:
1. Remind yourself, ‘Worry serves no purpose.'
Recently I was coaching a teen who had a fight with a friend—so she spent all week worried about ‘what they might do’. I asked why. She said to protect herself just in case. And that’s how it feels right? Like worrying is somehow proactive and helps prevent 'something bad happening.' When really, it just sets us off in a spiral of anxiety that often causes us to take action that perpetuates more reasons to worry.
When I asked this teen how she’d been acting this week, she admitted she’d been more snappy with her family and gone off track with some of her studies because she was so worried. Guess what that created for her? More reasons to worry. Yet, it turns out the retaliation of her friend never happened. In fact, the friend ended up being as cool as cucumber about it.
Can you relate to that feeling of looking back and thinking ‘oh man, I just wasted all that energy stressing for nothing?’
Yep, pretty sure we've all got two hands in the air right now!
2. Don’t judge your worry—it’s part of our humanness.
But hey, before you beat yourself up for being a ‘Negative Nancy’ I want you to understand that our brains have an ingrained negative bias – it’s an evolution thing that’s kept us alive and evolving for hundreds of millions of years, so you can actually be grateful for it. Because if your great uncle x 1000 didn’t spot that tiger or snake coming for him, or if he didn’t remember that fire meant danger, you wouldn’t be here. So it’s a natural human instinct to jump to the negatives when there’s something you perceive as a threat. But in this new age, where we don’t have lions sleeping on our back door step, it’s also completely unnecessary.
The greatest perceived harm for us now is emotional harm – like humiliation, rejection, shame – and because these emotions are so uncomfortable to us we often go to great lengths to hide from them and deem them as ‘worry-worthy’ to our emotional life.
I mean, what if I completely mental blank on that presentation for English? How humiliating, I better worry about that. What if I don’t hear back from that boy I asked to my formal? That’ll hurt, I better worry about that. It makes sense right – your brain is trying to protect you from discomfort. It’s important that teens understand that so they don’t compound their negative emotion with judgement or shame. Worry is perfectly normal – it’s just also not necessary.
3. Worry doesn’t prevent discomfort – it just brings it on ahead of time!
As we’ve just seen, worry is our brain’s way of trying to protect us from discomfort. But tell me, how comfortable does worry feel?
Do you show up as your most clear-minded and empowered self when you’re feeling worried?
Nope, me either.
That’s why I recommend you and your teen commit to a ‘worry-free’ diet.
Because worrying feels terrible. And also causes us to act that way too.
We’re trying to protect ourselves from an uncomfortable emotion, but all that does is cause you to spin in an uncomfortable emotion..
Now do you get what I mean by 'worry serves no purpose'?
4. Intentionally redirect it to more useful, empowering thoughts.
My favourite is: ‘Life is always unfolding for my greatest good – even when I can’t quite see it yet!’
So now that you understand that your brain naturally wants to jump to the worst-case scenario, you can no longer judge myself for that – but also no longer allow yourself to freak out and catastraphise every future ‘what if’.
Instead you can gently but intentionally redirect it to focus on thoughts that feel a whooole lot better – so you can show up in each situation purposely in the clear and confident way you want to, not in the fear-based your brain defaults to.
I think people feel that if they 'think positively' about their future that they’re deluding themselves. But either way you’re deluding yourself.
Because the truth is, you never know what the future holds.
But the best news is you get to believe whatever you like about it.
That’s why I choose to believe that whatever tomorrow holds is going to unfold exactly how it’s supposed to for my greatest good.
It might not go to plan how I hope, but it’ll happen in the way that it’s meant to. And I am committed to looking for the good in whatever that reason is.
Ahhhh, now doesnt that feel a whoooole lot better?!
Knowing there is no guarantee what’s going to happen next, you might as well focus on the positives because positive emotion is more likely to fuel positive action and clear thinking. Without worry you're more likely to stay focused in the present, keep charging towards your goals and remain patient and loving towards those you care about. Something my teen client really understood once we reflected over her week in hindsight.
5. Take action from a clear and empowered space.
And don’t get me wrong, not worrying doesn’t mean you don’t take action towards planning or protecting yourself – for example you may put some money in your savings account in case you run into some unforeseeable expenses, or hand out some extra resumes to some other local stores incase you don’t hear back from the job interview – but you do it from a clean space of care and confidence, rather than a clouded place of stress and fear.
6. Worry doesn’t make the unthinkable any less painful.
People say ‘oh but what if my life gets flipped upside down over night?’
Well, mine did.
I can’t know for sure actually what may happen tomorrow.
But I know for sure, that whatever happens, worrying now isn’t going to solve it. In fact, it sends me backwards.
Your growth opportunity for this week:
So now we understand all of this, I want you and your teen think about an event you’re currently worrying about, and ask yourself –
"If I knew for sure everything was going to work out totally fine, how I would I act and feel differently?"
And then start acting that way now.
Because that belief is actually just as true as everything totally ‘not being okay’.
But being at peace feels way better than worry.
And you'll be far more proud of the human you show up as for your teen when you're fuelled by confidence and courage, than from fear and anxiety.
(Sorry ancestors, but your mindset is way outdated!)
Worrying isn’t going to save your tomorrow’s.
It’s just wasting your today’s.
So be brave and go on a worry-free diet with me.
Life tastes way better when you do.