Why You Should Forget About All Your Problems

New research shows that shutting problems out of your mind is a terrific way to deal with them (really!). Here, four ways to do it.

I am not a gambling woman, but I’d be willing to bet that any one of you reading this post has something on your mind, big or small. Maybe the worry is money, an unresolved argument, an upsetting diagnosis, or simply a bad day. We’ve all been there, and these bumps in the road will continue to come our way. The question is: How will we manage them?

New research out of Canada says that it’s not enough to simply distract yourself to alleviate the stress associated with a problem; rather, authors Cheng and McCarthy found that intentionally taking your mind off of a stressor had a beneficial effect. But how is this possible? Doesn’t putting off dealing with stress make the stressor even more, well, distressing?

I’ve got some tried-and-true coping strategies to help get you through those tougher moments. My goal is to provide you with some ideas to equip your bag of tricks with de-stressing tactics you can pull out anytime, anywhere, whether you’re riding the train or bus, sitting in a stressful meeting, or even sweating it out on the treadmill. The key? Figuring out what which tricks work for you.

• Breathe correctly. Slowing down your breathing is critical when you’re feeling stressed or anxious. Think back to the last time you were upset or extremely scared. You were likely breathing in and out through your mouth. In order to reduce some stress and anxiety, it’s important to breathe through your nose and out through your mouth. By paying attention to your breathing, you will find that you may slow down, take your mind off your current problem, and feel calmer and more in control.

• Let it go in pieces. The “let it go” trick includes a visual component. It is especially useful for anyone who is involved in movement: a runner, biker, walker or commuter. At designated markers, make a decision to let one worry, or one piece of a worry, go. For example: At each mile on your run, leave part of your worry behind. Or at each stop on your daily train commute, leave another piece of the stress behind. Visualize it literally being left in the dust … if only for a few minutes. It may sound difficult—even silly—but, with practice, you may be surprised by how freeing it feels to literally and figuratively “let it go.”

• Tap your fingers. Before you scoff, track with me on this one. With your feet firmly planted on the floor, tap each finger onto a hard surface (perhaps a table, or the chair you are sitting on), starting with the pinky on one hand and working your way over to the pinky on the other hand. This simple act will force you to pay attention to what is happening in the here-and-now, instead of what is happening in what I like to call “Worry Land,” a.k.a. your mind. You can do this trick in a variety of ways: by tapping your feet, contracting and relaxing your muscles in a systemized way, and so on. The point is that you are present in the moment, focusing on physical movement instead of the elusive worry train, and you are in complete control.

• Write now, attend later. Still not convinced that any of my suggestions so far will help you disengage from the stressful and anxiety-provoking thoughts you are having? I’ll share with you one of my favorites. As worries begin to fill your mind, write them down onto a piece of paper or a journal. Once the list is complete, make the decision to put the list out of sight and then move on to another activity for at least 30 minutes. You will not risk forgetting what it is you want to take care of, but you will be giving yourself permission to take a little time away from them. Your stress levels will thank you.

As Mark Twain once said, “Mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” While it may not always be that simple to let a stressor go, hopefully these coping strategies will help in the process. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some finger tapping to do. Don’t mind me.


Dana Careless is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Pennsylvania with a Masters Degree in Counseling and Clinical Health Psychology. She is also a certified indoor cycling instructor and founder of A Therapeutic Revolution, where you can burn calories while busting stress through a wellness indoor cycling class, one revolution at a time.

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