Believe it or not, one of the most common themes that comes up in therapy is how to stop worrying about others, and focus on yourself instead.
Oftentimes, it’s not such an obvious problem.
It can look like “But I don’t want to disappoint my parents.” Or “They’re judging me, I know it.” Or, “What if I do this thing, and then they’re mad at me?”
I get it. Worrying about others and what they think is human. We all do it to some extent.
And I think it’s especially common for women to fall into this trap.
From the day we are born, we are influenced by society’s expectations of us to be nurturing caregivers. To put others’ needs before our own.
This has a deep impact on how we develop over time and how our brains perceive what’s happening around us.
So if you find yourself doing this, don’t be too hard on yourself.
Focusing on others isn’t always a bad thing. It means that we care. And oftentimes, it makes us feel good, so it’s serving us and our health too.
But what I have learned through my own experience, and while working with my clients is this important distinction:
If you are starting to feel burnt out, unappreciated, and overwhelmed, it might be time to focus a bit more on your own needs and desires.
Learning to put your wellbeing at the forefront sounds like a simple concept. But that doesn’t mean it is easy to put into practice.
Here are a few tips to get you started.
Understand Why You’re Worrying So Much About Others
Worrying about other people’s opinions is a survival instinct that served an important purpose in the past, but may not be serving a purpose in the present.
When we are born, we do not have the skills or the ability to take care of ourselves. It is essential to our survival that our caregivers love us, accept us, and want to take care of us.
If they didn’t, we wouldn’t get fed, or bathed, and we LITERALLY would not survive. We would die without the love and care of others.
This need to feel loved and accepted also helped us survive when all human beings hunted and gathered in packs thousands of years ago.
If the pack didn’t approve of and accept you, that would mean you were left alone to fend for yourself. Back then, not being a part of a community meant you were more susceptible to prey, starvation, and death.
This desire to be liked by and approved of by others is not only normal, it has allowed us to survive. And let’s be honest for second – it also feels good!
However, today we encounter wayyyy more people and opinions than ever before. It would be impossible to be on the same page of everyone we come in contact with all the time.
It’s important to remember that society has evolved at a much faster rate than our biological instincts.
Luckily, in today’s day and age, if others do not approve of us or our decisions, we will survive!
Once you understand this human instinct to seek approval, you can move onto the next step, which is to…
Notice Your Thoughts Around Your Worries.
Oftentimes we don’t even notice what we are saying to ourselves when we are worrying about others, or what people think. Once you start to look at what you are thinking, you’ll find that the assumptions you’re making about others don’t make a lot of sense.
It might be tough to hear, but no one is thinking about you as much as you think they are.
Journaling is a wonderful way to become better aware of your thoughts (here are 30 prompts to get you started). The next time you find yourself worrying about others, take a moment to write down the actual thoughts you are having.
I always prefer pen to paper, but the notes app on your phone will work in a pinch. You might find when you look at your thoughts, they’re a bit irrational, and you can start to let them go.
When you speak outloud the negative thoughts you’re having, they start to sound kind of silly. It’s then easier to let them go. If this is something you struggle with, talking to a therapist is one of the best ways to cope. Feel free to get in touch and make an appointment.
Make Your Own Voice Speak Louder Than Your Anxiety.
One of the best ways to stop worrying about what others think is to shift where you put your energy. And yes, that includes the time you spend on social media.
If you find yourself focused on the business of others, more than your own, tell yourself to “STOP!”
Look the other way. LITERALLY. Follow Björk’s advice, and “Twist your head around. It’s all around you. All is full of love.”
There are so many other things in the world to do and think about than other people. Put in intentional effort to shift your focus. Instead, think about your own life. Get to know who you are. Allow yourself to fantasize about your dreams coming true.
Sometimes it can be difficult to know where to start. If you’re struggling to understand what you want out of life, I highly recommend you investigate your values. This self-reflection exercise is my favorite. It only takes 10 minutes, and is guaranteed to point you in the right direction.
Having self-esteem and learning to love yourself mentally is one of the key components to happiness. And, one of the best ways to stop worrying about others and focus on yourself instead.
Of course we all have bad days, and the way we feel about ourselves fluctuates.
Having self-esteem means have a general appreciation of yourself and an acceptance of yourself, positive qualities, flaws and all.
Let’s say the worst-case scenario is true – that someone doesn’t like you, or disapproves of your decision. Or heaven-forbid, you put yourself first, or even make a mistake!
Having self-esteem gives you the strength to carry the weight of those situations, regardless of how others react. It means believing in your own ability to handle them.
Building self-esteem is a life-long journey. Check out this free worksheet to learn how to apply CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) to improve self-esteem.
If you still worry sometimes about others, that is perfectly okay.
Instead of trying to stop completely, recognize that it’s human.
And instead of thinking about what you want to stop doing, think about what you want to start doing. Which is to create more time and space to focus on yourself.
With time, you’ll start to get better and better at it.
Did any of these tips resonate, or is there anything else you’ve tried that has helped you to stop worrying about what other people think? I’d love to hear from you, so let me know.
And if you tend to worry a lot about everything, check out this video on overcoming anxiety holistically. I share 3 tools that my clients report has helped them the most – one for the mind, one for the body, and one for the spirit.