Worry is often a very negative emotion, propelled by anxious thoughts and worst-case scenarios. In times of high stress of pressure, worry is more likely to spiral out of control.
In small doses, worry is normal and part of healthy functioning. However, when worry becomes excessive, it can begin to control our lives. Worry becomes a cycle that's very challenging to break out of.
If you're plagued with constant worry and anxiety, you may feel stuck, but the reality is that you are not. Here are some of the best strategies you can use to calm your mind and worry less.
We all worry from time to time, but some of us worry more than others. Worries can encompass future concerns or something you're currently experiencing. According to Robert L. Leahy, Ph.D. and author of The Worry Cure: 7 Steps to Stop Worry From Stopping You, there are several causes of worrying. There are both environmental and genetic components of worry. For example, people that came from a divorced household or had overprotective parents are more likely to suffer from anxiety¹.
A worry is a form of hypervigilance. Leahy says that worriers tend to feel that they can (and must) prevent bad things from happening by worrying about them. All of the worryings have adverse mental and physical health effects. For one, 93% of people with a generalized anxiety disorder also have overlapping mental health conditions like depression¹. Excessive worriers are more likely to battle fatigue, nausea, irritable bowel syndrome, and aches and pains.
It's normal to worry about upcoming tests, interviews, dates, or unfinished tasks, but when does worry become excessive? According to the American Psychological Association, excessive worry, which is difficult to control and persistent, is a primary symptom of generalized anxiety disorder². Your worry is out of control if you cannot control your worrisome thoughts and interfere with your daily life.
For example, suppose you are worried about things that you cannot focus on, sleep, or eat properly. In that case, you are worrying too much. Chronic worrying is unpleasant and harmful to your health and relationships.
Occasional worry is normal but excessive, and chronic worry is a significant health concern. The constant worry can take a severe toll on your overall health, but of course, it's not easy to stop worrying. No matter how upsetting constant worry can be, it can be just as challenging to stop the cycling thought. Often, negative thoughts about worry create more worry, and chronic worriers will also think that their anxieties help them prepare and avoid problems.
Here are some of the strategies that you can use to stop worrying:
The first step to busting your worries is to stop. Take a second and pause. Freeze the moment, stop the clock and think critically for a moment. Worries quickly spiral out of control and build upon each other, often paralyzing people from doing what they need to do in the first place.
Just stop for a moment and evaluate your worries. Think about what you can do right now to improve at the moment. If you're worried about being late and missing your flight, think about what you can do to prevent that. Set some extra alarms, schedule your ride, get your packing done, etc. You'll often notice at least some of your worry subside when you address the things you can right now.
It may sound counterintuitive, but scheduling worry time can be very helpful. A Behavior Modification study found that scheduling time to worry can help reduce anxious thoughts and improve sleep³.
Set aside 20-30 minutes each day for worries. Try to make your worry time the same each day. During your worry time, you are free to worry as much as you want about any and everything. However, once the time is over, the worrying must stop. Worrying cannot creep into your morning coffee or bedtime routine; it must stay within the worry time. When you notice a worry bubble up outside of this time, you must practice mindfulness to acknowledge the thought and let it go.
Of course, this will take practice and effort, but it will be well worth it. Once you confine your worries within your worry time, you'll realize the control you have over them and dedicate your thinking to more productive topics.
Writing down your worries can also help you break the cycle of worrying. For example, one study found that writing about worries reduced anxiety and improved test performance for students prone to pre-test anxiety⁴.
When you write down your worries, you'll be able to identify what you are worried about. Additionally, it will help you put worries down during the day when you jot them down. Anytime an anxious thought pops into your head, briefly note it down, then move on. Later, you'll be able to address the worries during your worry time.
Once you enter your worry period, you can head back to your journal to be real with how you feel. Embrace your feelings and be realistic with how you feel. Reflect on the worries on your list. Consider if your worries are within your control and if there's any evidence the worry is valid. You should evaluate the likelihood of your worries and if worrying helps or hurts the situation. You can also take this time to evaluate better alternative ways to address the situation or figure out the steps you can take today.
Solvable worries can be productive; they are things you can act on right away. But other worries are unsolvable and are therefore just sucking away your time and energy. One key to worrying less is to identify solvable vs. unsolvable worries⁵.
Solvable worries are ones you can act on right away. If you're worried about an upcoming interview, start prepping! If it's your health, then create a diet and exercise plan. On the other hand, unsolvable worries don't have a corresponding action. You won't be able to control the weather during your trip or prevent your company from laying people off.
If you realize your problem is solvable, then you should create your plan of action. As we discussed earlier, doing something to address the issue will help alleviate some of your anxieties. If you determine that the worry is unsolvable, then you should embrace uncertainty. For those with anxiety, uncertainty is uncomfortable and scary, but accepting the unpredictable will ease some of your worries.
When dealing with worries, you don't need to try to figure everything out by yourself. Isolating yourself only amplifies the problems you face and your ability to get better. You'd be surprised to find that you can alleviate some of your concerns by just talking it out. Your loved ones can offer the support you need while also giving some helpful advice and a new perspective. One study found that perceived social support was central to anxiety and depressive symptom changes even after evidence-based anxiety treatments in primary care settings⁶. According to Anxiety.org, "in today's society, social support is associated with decreased mortality, greater resilience to stress, lower levels of depression and anxiety, higher self-esteem, and an enhanced ability to cope with stressors such as bereavement, job loss, trauma, and illness.⁷"
Your loved ones may only be able to help so much, especially if your worrying is extreme. Those with stubborn, chronic worry should consider seeking help from a professional. In addition to talking it out for social support, you may want to seek out group therapy, local support groups, or talk therapy from a professional specializing in anxiety.
Worrying is a negative thought pattern, meaning that it is a learned habit. Negative thinking is developed over time, but that means you can also turn your thoughts around to focus on the positive. Some ways to convert your negative thinking pattern into a positive one include:
Developing mindfulness can help you worry less. Mindfulness is "awareness of one's internal states and surroundings," and it's been shown to reduce destructive habits (like worry)⁹. Those that are practicing mindfulness can observe their thoughts, emotions, and experiences without judgment.
Mindfulness meditation is one of the best ways to cultivate mindfulness and induce relaxation¹⁰. Mindfulness meditation focuses on attention and acceptance. For the attention portion, you focus on what is happening in the present moment, like breathing, thoughts, physical sensations, and more. Acceptance is all about observing your feelings and sensations without judgment. You merely note them and let them go. Meditation is a relaxation technique that can help you release tension and let go of worry. By using mindfulness meditation, we can train our minds not to get caught in cycling thoughts.
Fear is a natural response we experience, but fear can paralyze us. When we deal with excessive worry, we feel that we cannot tolerate the discomfort, and the discomfort is what we fear. A big part of overcoming worry is able to handle discomfort. Many worriers will avoid new situations that could make them uncomfortable. Addressing the things that make you uncomfortable will help you overcome the detrimental coping strategy. You'll be able to recognize your fear as just fear and something you can overcome.
Turn to activities that promote joy and peace, ones that help you take care of yourself. Self-care is essential for self-worth and happiness, and it's a pivotal step to take when considering how to battle worry. Engage in hobbies that you enjoy, maybe even resurfacing some that you let fall to the wayside. Take care of your body and mind through exercise and a whole food diet. Nurture your spiritual wellness. Some ideas for self-care include:
One form of self-care that can significantly help you worry less is supplementation. The Bio Neurix SEREDYN formula is specially formulated to calm the anxious, worrisome mind. The SEREDYN formula contains top worry-relieving supplements, including:
Worry is something we all face from time to time, but the key is to keep your worrying in check. It's effortless for worry to get out of hand and begin to control our lives, impacting our mental and physical health. Excessive worry can consume us, preventing us from doing what we love and enjoying life to the fullest. While it takes time and serious effort to reduce worry, the strategies above will help you worry less. It is never too late to change your patterns of worry into more positive thinking.
(1) Chang, L (January 2008) 9 Steps to End Chronic Worrying
(2) American Psychological Association (n.d.) Worry in APA Dictionary of Psychology
(3) McGowan, SK; Behar, E. (2013). A Preliminary Investigation of Stimulus Control Training for Worry: Effects on Anxiety and Insomnia
(4) Harms, W (January 2011) Writing about worries eases anxiety and improves test performance
(5) Saulsman, L; Nathan, P; Lim, L; Correia, H; Anderson, R; Campbell, B. (2015). What? Me Worry!?! Mastering Your Worries
(6) Dour, HJ et al. (2014) Perceived social support mediates anxiety and depressive symptom changes following primary care intervention
(7) Lee, CS (May 2017) Interpersonal Emotion Regulation: How Others Help Us Reduce Anxiety and Stress
(8) Singh, M (December 2018) If You Feel Thankful, Write It Down. It's Good For Your Health
(9) American Psychological Association (n.d.) Mindfulness in APA Dictionary of Psychology
(10) American Psychological Association (October 2019) Mindfulness meditation: A research-proven way to reduce stress