Do you sometimes feel a sense of despair, anxiety or worry about the world? Do you find current events and developments in the world keeping you up at night or mentally occupied during the day? Do you find yourself getting stuck in thought loops about your worry and play the same scenarios on repeat? You are not alone. Some things that happen in the world can leave us feeling worried, scared, hopeless, overwhelmed, angry, confused, unsafe or powerless.
What can we do? How can we cope? In this article, we will help you to understand your worries better, show you what you can do in order to manage and overcome your worries about the world and how and why our brand new coaching plan can help you with that.
In general worrying is normal and serves a function. It is a mechanism of our brain that helps us plan and be prepared for the future by thinking through possible problems and their solutions. We feel worry in the face of volatility, uncertainty and ambiguity. Worrying gives our brain the impression that’s we’re doing something about what we are worrying about and therefore subconsciously makes us feel less powerless and more in control of the situation.
“Normal” worry comes and goes. We are aware of our worrying thoughts and don’t get carried away with them. Now that doesn’t mean that we don’t react emotionally. It simply means that we are able to take a step back, process the feelings, breathe through them and move on with our day. What is bad for us is when our worries start to impede our daily functioning, state of mind and wellbeing.
In a way, worrying about the world is much like normal, everyday worrying. However, these worries tend to have a stronger emotional impact, since in the face of these big global events and developments, we feel even more powerless or at the mercy of events outside our control. These complex challenges also have many different influencing factors and there are many things we don’t know, can’t assess. It’s hard for us to estimate how they will turn out and how they might affect us.
Our world is always changing and evolving. We will always face challenges that we’ll need to solve together. This is why it is important to develop and train the skill of managing our worries, reducing the all-consuming impact they have on us so we can focus on making a change where we can. And that change starts IN you.
Here is the good news: our new course Worrying about the world is out now! It is not a “feel good” course, pretending we are not facing the challenges that we currently are on a global level, or telling you to ignore them. In it, we will show you how to develop and strengthen your skills to deal with worries and how to lessen the impact they have on you.
At times, we can feel like we are bombarded with negative news. It can leave us feeling like the world is in its worst state ever. Climate change, inequality, violence, political chaos, injustice, physical, emotional and verbal abuse, discrimination, … so many things seem to be uncertain and we feel at their mercy. Through the internet and social media, we now have much more exposure to so many things happening all around the world. But here is the thing: our brains influence how we perceive the world.
A dispassionate look at the data shows us that things are generally getting better for most people (e.g. less people living in extreme poverty, lower child mortality, more equality (or at least attempts at movement in that direction), better access to water and education and healthcare). Of course not everywhere to the same degree, but in general for most people. Don’t get us wrong, we don’t want to discredit your worry.
But even armed with this knowledge, why is it so hard to worry less about the state of the world?
Our brain classifies bad information and possible threats as more important and with the internet and social media we are now more exposed to bad events all around the world. It is not that more bad things are happening, we just tend to see more of these things and our brain automatically classifies these signals as more important because recognizing danger is crucial for our survival.
In an article of 1998, researchers found that negative information tends to have a stronger influence on our evaluations than comparably extreme positive information. This information is given greater weight and attention, especially impression information. Considering that our ability to detect danger is key to survival, this is probably not a big surprise.
Our brains adapt their sensitivity to specific signals or stimuli depending on how often they occur. A recent study from 2018 found that people often respond to decreases in the prevalence of a stimulus by expanding their concept of it. Global or social problems and challenges may seem intractable in part because reductions in their prevalence lead people to see more of them.
Whatever we believe to be true, our brain automatically searches for proof of - it acts like a filter for the information we perceive to be relevant for us when selecting which stimuli to process and give attention to. If we believe that the world is getting worse rather than better we will find proof for it.
Worrying fills blank spaces, which gives our mind the feeling of being more in control regarding the uncertainty we are facing. The less information we have, the easier it is for us to worry. Confusion and a lack of clarity are main reasons for worry and anxiety. These blank spaces mean uncertainty for our brain, which means possible danger. This is why we play through different scenarios in our mind in order to be prepared.
Let’s be honest, we will never have ALL the information, but we can try to get as much relevant information as we can in order to make good decisions. World events and global developments are very complex and are influenced by many different aspects/ elements. Depending on the sources you consume, you will get a different point of view and different information. This is why, especially regarding global developments, our mind tries to make sense of the information we have available and there are plenty of blank spaces to be filled. Once they are, we have the feeling that we are more in control again.
There are two sides to processing worry, the mental (cognitive) and the emotional one to validate and process the feelings - in order to be better able to process worry in the future and have less impact on your state of mind, we need to address both aspects.
Here are some helpful tips on what you can do and how our new Worrying about the world course will help you. This course will help you better understand your worry about the world, decrease the impact it has on you, and teach you how to feel less overwhelmed and more in control when experiencing intense worries and get back a sense of agency and purpose.
We worry in the present moment but our worries take us to the future. So the first step is to notice that you are worrying at the moment (you can even say “hello worries, I notice you’re there”. It sounds like a very small thing, but getting present and observing are the first and most important steps. Let’s imagine your worries were your hand. When we are stuck in worries, it is like that worry-hand was right on our face. When we are within these thought loops, we can’t distance ourselves from them - they are basically everything we see in this moment. Noticing our worrying thoughts brings distance between these worrying thoughts and ourselves (it takes our worry-hand off our face). It gets us out of the spiraling thoughts and into a position where we are able to observe them better. Taking that hand further away from our face also gives us space to notice other things around us, not only our worries.
In session 1 of our new Worrying about the world course we do exactly that. By using a a technique called mind dump and a couple of reflection questions, we get your thoughts out of your head, help you to gain distance between your worry about the world and yourself, view them more objectively and gain mental clarity
Worrying let’s us imagine all the bad outcomes and developments. The thing is, imagining danger leads to the exact same physiological reaction in our body as if there was real danger present. When we are worried or anxious our brain feels like we are in immediate danger when we are actually safe at home. This is why it is important to calm your nervous system, get it out of the fight, flight or freeze mode and reestablish that sense of safety. A calm body leads to a calm mind and our breath is the remote control for our nervous system. So the best and most effective way to calm down is to control our breath.
There are a lot of different breathing techniques out there. Slowing your breath down, breathing deeply and breathing out longer than breathing in helps you to calm down. Some exercises we have in our app for that are e.g. our balanced breathing routine or the physiological sigh.
Since worrying establishes a sense of danger, being unsafe, restlessness or unease in us, it is important to set boundaries that help us feel safe. This could entail regulating what we consume, so e.g. how often we watch the news, which sources we use, when we watch them (not before going to bed) etc. It can also help to end the day on a positive note, e.g. with gratitude or appreciation (see our Evening Journaling Routine) or by creating a night time routine that lets your body find peace and feel safe (e.g. by limiting the use of electrical devices as much as possible before going to sleep, stretching, going for a walk, meditation, drinking tea, playing an instrument, listening to calm music - whatever feels good for you).
When experiencing unpleasant emotions, we tend to want to ignore them, push them aside, or just want to get rid of them as quickly as possible. There is a great danger in suppressing emotions because we think that we need to stay positive, that we are a genuinely happy person, so we shouldn’t be sad, we cognitively know that there is not much we can do, still worry and therefore try to push it away. It is important to realize that suppressing unpleasant or painful emotions is never a good idea and leads to more pain. So before we can let them go, we need to look at them, validate and process them.
Session 2 of the Worrying about the world course is all about processing your worry on an emotional level to loosen the grip it has on you and get you ready to move forward. Some of our worries are rooted very deeply, so you can repeat this exercise as often as you want to, until the worry loses its emotional impact on you.
Aside from our course, we also have an exercise especially designed for processing acute worries in our app.
The first step is acceptance. Accepting the situation as it is. Now acceptance doesn’t mean that we ignore the problem, or think it is okay, or even stop working towards change. It just means seeing the situation as it is, and taking it as a starting point. It also entails accepting what we do have and don’t have control over. Trying to change things we can’t influence leads to more suffering. Some things are simple out of our control, whether we like or not. On the other hand there are plenty of things we CAN influence. Maybe even more than you know at the moment.
In Session 3 of our new course we will work out what is outside of your control, accept and release it.
We can’t just stop paying attention to the things that worry us. Trying to NOT worry or to NOT feel anxious about something does the complete opposite thing as we still focus on what we don’t want (we all know what happens when we try not to think about a pink elephant…), plus it takes a lot of energy. Rejecting or ignoring reality doesn’t change it. It actually leads to more suffering because we get stuck in negative thoughts and emotions.
Shifting our focus is a process that doesn’t work by trying to avoid or ignore what we worry about. The key is to shift our focus to something else that is important to us - and by that the emotional weight and importance of the thing we worry about will NATURALLY decrease. As long as we try to push it away, we are still giving it our attention and energy.
This is why we need something that can match that pull and let’s us focus on what we want instead of what we don’t want. In Session 4 of our Worrying about the world course, we will find that positive focus, get granular and dig deep into what is important to you.
Worry makes us feel unsafe and often powerless. Doing something in regard to what is important to us, gives us back a sense of control and agency that we lost in the first place. It also strengthens our positive focus. Additionally, doing something that requires planning or our attention keeps or minds from wandering to worrying thoughts.
In the last session of our Worrying about the world course, Session 5, we will find out how to integrate what matters to you into your everyday life. Remember, it is not about creating big change in the world. It is not about starting a revolution or finding a solution to end injustice. It is about creating small change within yourself. It is about finding out what is behind your worry and integrating what is important to you in the smallest ways into your everyday life. And this is exactly what we will do in the 5th and final session of our Worrying about the world course. And who knows, all these tiny actions might end up leading to a big change in the world?
Aside from these 6 tips, taking care of yourself and your mental wellbeing, e.g. by getting enough sleep, doing things you enjoy,listening to music and laughter are great ways to maintain or regain balance, energy and broaden your focus on all the wonderful things that exist in this world.
Learning how to manage worry and lessen its impact on you is a journey. Basically, we are working on what you pay attention to and starting to rewire your brain. We can’t simply decide not to worry anymore, so it is important to remain patient with yourself.
When we worry a lot, these neurological pathways are strengthened through use- changing the way we think is like trying to make your way through the jungle the first time - it is hard, there are a lot of things trying to get in our way, we might feel uncomfortable. But the more often we take this new path, the easier it will get and the clearer we make that path until it is like a highway allowing our thoughts to flow freely where we want them to go. .
This coaching plan is designed in a way that you can do it more than once with different worries about the world, or do it again after a while to consolidate your skills.
So, to sum it all up (1) worrying is normal. (2) There are many things that we can do to learn how to manage them and lessen their impact on us. (3) Our new coaching plan is a great way to start learning that skill.
With all the challenges we are facing and everything difficult, confusing or scary that happens, it is important to also keep in mind all the beautiful things that make us who we are, that make this life worth living and make it an amazing journey. And while we can’t influence everything that happens, we can always influence how we deal with it and who we are in regard to what happens.
See you soon in our app! Till then, look after yourself, and don’t forget to let your mind shine.
If you would like to learn even more about the new coaching plan, make sure to check out our podcast “Better begins in the mind” on Spotify and on Apple Podcast.
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