Worry is a natural emotion that helps us in small doses. However, once worrying consumes us, it keeps us from living a healthy, fulfilled life. Constant worry and anxious thoughts are incredibly detrimental to all Eight Dimensions of Wellness and can keep us from enjoying life.
Once you've fallen into a pattern of constant worry, it can seem nearly impossible to escape. Calming your mind and easing anxiety is something you must train your brain to do. Here are the top 6 habits that will help you stop excessive worrying.
Everyone feels anxious, doubtful, and worried at some point in their life. It's normal to worry about significant events coming your way. For example, it's prevalent to worry about retiring from your job or meeting someone new. At some point, the worry becomes excessive. When your worry is uncontrollable and nearly constant, it begins to interfere with your ability to live life. According to WebMD, excessive worrying is when "your mind and body go into overdrive as you constantly focus on 'what might happen¹."
Excessive worrying may be marked by:
Worrying too much can negatively affect your health in many ways. It can trigger several health problems when your fight-or-flight response is to act. The response releases stress hormones, like cortisol, which increase blood sugar levels and triglycerides. The result is that you feel emotionally drained and can have difficulty concentrating and sleeping. Many people dealing with constant worry take it out on those close to them, distract themselves with excessive screen time, or even engage in self-medication via drugs and alcohol.
Contact and excessive worry and tension impact every aspect of your daily life and may feel impossible to turn off. With dedication and practice, you can work past and reduce anxious thoughts. Worry is a mental pattern that you can train your brain to correct.
Constant worrying produces a negative emotional state that makes it hard to sleep and difficult to relax. You feel emotionally strained and upset. Even though you know it puts you in an unenjoyable state, it can be so hard to stop. These are the reasons worrying is so hard to stop.
Chronic worriers hold many negative and positive beliefs about their worries. You may know the harm of your worrying, resulting in distress that will impact your health or life even further. Then the worry compounds, keeping the cycle going.
On the other hand, many people hold positive beliefs about their worries as well. They may be convinced that worrying helps them avoid danger, prevents problems, helps them avoid disappointment, and even leads to solutions. They may think worrying can help solve a problem or that shows more responsibility. It's challenging to break worrying when you think it serves a practical purpose.
Part of what makes worry so hard to battle is its pervasiveness. Worry seeps into your every activity and thought, dominating your life and distracting you. Instead of just trying to stop worrying, give yourself a set time to do so. A 2011 study by Penn State psychology professor Tom Borcovec found that setting aside a particular time to worry was a helpful strategy².
The idea is that you should set out a specific "worry period" at the same time each day. This is the time you should worry about whatever it is that is causing your stress. Worry must be confined within that duration, so you must consciously decide to handle it during your worry period any time you notice it in your day.
To help you do this, you can jot down any worries or anxious thoughts you experience during the day. Don't spend time mulling over them; write them down, and remember you'll have time to address them later. During the worry period, go over your "worry list" for the amount of time you set aside. When you put some time between your worries and examining them, it's often easier to gain a balanced perspective and cut down your worrying.
Worrying and problem-solving are not the same. Sometimes, it's good to worry about something you can find a solution to, but unsolvable worries are mostly just distracting. While you're worrying, you feel less anxious because you distract yourself by running over the problem in your head. Problem-solving, on the other hand, requires you to create set strategies for addressing a situation. Just worrying can rarely lead to solutions.
When you realize you worry, determine if it is about a problem you can solve or not. Suppose the worry is about an actual problem that is likely and you can somewhat prepare for or control. In that case, the worry is likely solvable. If the worry is solvable, then you can take immediate action to resolve it. If you are worried about upcoming bills, you can research payment options, set up recurring payments, etc.
Conversely, unsolvable worries are those that you cannot act to resolve. Worrying about your children or pet suddenly dying is not rooted in a problem you are currently facing or corresponding with an action you can take. Unfortunately, these make up the vast majority of worries from chronically anxious people. One study found that 91.4% of worries never come to fruition for people with anxiety³. Instead of ruminating over ways to solve a problem you cannot, you should embrace your feelings.
The bottom line is that you should start brainstorming solutions if worry is solvable. Create a list of possible solutions you can take, and focus on only things you have the power to do. Choose a realistic solution and then design a plan of action. Only having a plan and moving forward to address the problem will help you reduce the worry.
Uncertainty contributes vastly to anxiety and worry. According to the Worry Less Report, "One of the most significant predictors of worry is the intolerance of uncertainty⁴." Chronic worriers struggle with unpredictability and doubt. Not knowing what will happen fuels worry, and negative emotions are a way to predict future outcomes by preventing unpleasant surprises.
Just thinking about what could go wrong does not make life any more assured. No amount of worry can prevent bad things from happening. Instead, worry keeps you from enjoying life in its present moments. It would be best if you tackle your need for certainty and immediate answers. Accepting Uncertainty, Centre for Clinical Interventions recommends you ask yourself these questions:
Other people have an essential role in our own emotions. Emotional contagion is the tangible idea that we can spread our moods to those around us⁷. While this is true of strangers and those we share the workplace with, those we spend a lot of time with have the most impact on our moods.
If you struggle with worrying, pay attention to how others affect your worry. It's not always easy to do this; one thing that may help is to jot down your triggers in a worry diary every time you begin to worry. Over time, you'll recognize patterns, including people.
Talking out your worries can be very helpful. However, you'll want to choose the right confidantes. Talk with those that help you gain perspective and alleviate your worries, not those that feed into your fears.
Spend time with people that make you feel better, not worse. Take some time away from those who make you feel more anxious and stressed. Establish healthy relationship boundaries, including off-limits topics to help your worrying.
When we worry, we focus on the future and the past. What could go wrong? What went wrong before that can resurface? We are not connected to the present. The ancient practice of mindfulness is one of the best ways to break free from the cycle of worry. Mindfulness is a form of meditation that is all about taking a step back from your worries, acknowledging them, and then letting them go. It's centered around the present moment, the here and now.
Several studies, including this one from the Frontiers in Psychology journal, find that practicing mindfulness helps us regulate emotions, reducing worrying and rumination. Another systematic review determined that mindfulness meditation helps ease psychological distress, including anxiety⁸.
At first, mindfulness will be difficult. Every time you attempt it, your mind will jump right to your worries. Getting better at mindfulness takes dedication and practice, but it is well worth it to reduce your worries. It's all about observing your worries instead of battling them and then letting them pass like clouds in the sky. You can do this on your own or through guided meditation via an app or class.
Excessive worrying can feel like chains pinning you down. While the chains are hard to break, we have the power to adjust our thinking and train ourselves to overcome worry. Using the techniques above, you can relieve some of your worries and live a more fulfilled life.
Learn how to stop trying to control everything, including your emotions.
(1) WebMD (September 2008) How Worrying Affects the Body
(3) LaFreniere, LS; Newman, MG (November 2018) Exposing Worry’s Deceit: Percentage of Untrue Worries in Generalized Anxiety Disorder Treatment
(4) Liberty Manual Insurance (n.d.) The Science of Worrying: New Report from Liberty Mutual Insurance Examines Causes and Coping Mechanisms at Home and on the Road
(5) Anxiety and Depression Association of America (n.d.) Exercise for Stress and Anxiety
(6) Harvard Health Publishing (July 2020) Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response
(7) Brewer, J (March 2020) Anxiety Is Contagious. Here’s How to Contain It.
(8) Corliss, J (January 2014) Mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress