How much worrying is too much? Are there ways to properly manage it?
We asked experts to share their insights.
Physician | Health Coach | Women’s Empowerment Speaker
For many people, dealing with worry can be a constant challenge.
Pre-bedtime free writing
One of the first exercises I give my patients/clients/audiences is pre-bedtime free writing. Setting a timer for 15 minutes, then letting your fears, doubts, worries, etc. flow through you onto paper is remarkably liberating. For extra effect, I recommend burning the results on a weekly basis as an exercise in releasing.
Write down your worries
The second step is making a list of your worries to find a pattern. What are you really worried about? Why? And why again? And again. When we get to the core fear, because worry is fear-based, then we can create customized mantras or affirmations to replace the worry-thoughts.
For example, let’s say you’re worried about a project going well. After a few rounds of “why?”, you realize that your core fear is that you’re afraid you aren’t good enough. So we counter that fear with something like, “I am good enough!”
Or perhaps the worry stems from a fear of losing your job if the project doesn’t go well. And so we craft a response to that, perhaps something like, “I am valuable and competent enough to keep my job, or find a better one!”
And last but not least, hypnosis can be very effective in dealing with worry, as it helps break unwanted habits. So I record a customized hypnosis session for my client to listen to on a regular basis. And, as there are some wonderful hypnosis apps out there, people can easily access this tool on their own.
Related: The 11 Best Self Hypnosis Books
Heather Z. Lyons, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist | Owner, Baltimore Therapy Group
From time to time we all worry. However, for some of us, worry can become consuming, in part because we can be rewarded for worrying (remember that one time you really did leave the oven on?).
Create a “worry time”
Your worry time should be a specific time each day and should last for a specific and consistent amount of time. Over time, this can be tapered off.
For example, every other day can become once a week, etc.. When you find yourself worrying outside of your worry time, quickly write down the worry and return to it during your “worry time.”
Setting a worrying time is effective because of what psychologists call “stimulus control.” By allotting specific worry times, we stop our brain from being stimulated to worry in response to triggers that like particular places, people, or topics.
Dr. Bryan Bruno
Medical Director, Mid City TMS
Excessive worrying can have its consequences. It can cause stress, anxiety, depression, mood swings, and exacerbate phobias. Here are a few ways you can cut down on your excessive worrying.
For starters, try a few common techniques used in cognitive therapy.
This includes using your imagination to transport yourself from whatever seems to be causing you to worry. Visualizing a white, sandy beach is a very common mental place that people go to in order to calm down.
It involves identifying and restructuring negative thoughts. Sometimes our worries are the result of “automatic beliefs” that are often untrue or irrational. In broad strokes, you take any initial negative thoughts you may have and examine the truth behind them. Automatically accepting these intrusive thoughts and running with them is sure to cause anxiety, and you’ll be surprised how irrational many of our automatic beliefs are.
Related: How to Stop Intrusive Thoughts
Overgeneralizing causes a lot of worry and anxiety. This stems from drawing a faulty conclusion based on too few pieces of evidence. For example, if you don’t get a job you interviewed for and you go on to think that you’ll never get a job in your life. Avoid and identify these kinds of generalizations.
Instead of worrying, try working through your issues
If you’re feeling anxious and overwhelmed with worry, tackle the problem with step-by-step solutions. The right frame of mind is the essential first step in conquering chronic worrying. Stay positive!
When in the midst of a worrying episode, try box breathing
Inhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, and hold again for four seconds before starting the process from the beginning. This is an incredible way to calm down quickly and taking the next step to solving your problem.
Try improving your diet
If you have a poor diet, your blood sugar levels could fluctuate, which could affect your mood in negative ways. Look for foods that are rich in omega 3s, they have been shown to improve depression and reduce anxiety.
Diet and exercise go hand in hand because they supply the body with what it needs. A body deprived of essential nutrients and exercise won’t function properly, thus negatively affecting your state of mind. Exercise will also help take your focus off whatever is worrying you.
Thomas Mittelsteadt MS, CSAC, LPC-IT
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Therapist, Ascension Mercy Hospital
In my practice, my clients have a tendency to worry often, and sometimes for good reason. I ask them, “What is a worry in the first place?”
Unless it is a biological or chemical issue, worry is nothing more than how we are thinking about the future or feeling shame and/or guilt about the past. Some of the questions I ask them are “Can you do anything about the past? How much control do you have over your future?”
We can’t do anything about the past except to make amends for mistakes or poor judgments we made and try to make things better. We actually don’t have much control over the future either. We can make plans and goals, but ultimately it will turn out the way it’s going to turn out.
Expectations will often lead to disappointment because we the future to be exactly as we envision it to be. This doesn’t happen, it may come close or very close sometimes, but exactly as we envisioned it? No.
Slow down and deal with the present
The old saying “How do you eat an elephant? One piece at a time”, comes into play here. Make a list of the things you need to get accomplished, prioritize that list then focus on what needs to get done first. Then do it, and only it. Once that is accomplished, then move on to the next.
If people are coming at you from all directions, it’s ok to tell them they can wait their turn or say no. Maybe ask yourself “Will this matter to me in 1 year, in 5 years?” Then, is really worth worrying about?
Breath. Take time for self-care. It’s ok to be selfish once in a while so you can collect yourself, regroup, then move forward. Taoism says worry is like trying to grasp water. It’s better to learn to swim.
Dr. Lina Velikova, M.D.
Gastroenterologist | Sleep Specialist | Contributor, DisturbMeNot
As a gastroenterologist, I’ve treated many patients with stomach-related illnesses, and worrying a lot seems to be linked to some of these conditions. That is why I talk to my patients about the psychological aspect of their health condition and try to explain to them that worrying too much can have a negative effect on their health.
Face each individual reason for worrying
Try to put your worries into perspective. On a 3-level scale (low, medium, high), how high does each situation or problem rate? In the worst-case scenario, what could happen? How probable is that to happen?
Try to rationalize your worries by writing down what is going on, and what could go wrong in case A, B, and C. Also, how can the problem be gone?
Convert your worry into action
Invest some of the energy you spend on worrying into action to prevent these worries to happen. Start with the small things, and notice how you manage to be in control, and how you’re able to avert the crisis.
Remind yourself about the good things you have to support you or the subject of your worry
What is there that is good? What kind of support system is at a place, that can prevent things from going totally wrong?
Speaker and Mindfulness Teacher
If you worry a lot, spending a few minutes silently focusing on the calming rhythm of your breath will prepare you way better for any stressful moment than worrying about it will.
Practicing mindfulness is key to bringing us into a calm state in which we can respond better to any challenge. Maybe you’ve heard of mindfulness but think you need a special place, or instructions or a teacher to practice it. The truth is, practicing mindfulness is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to reduce stress related to worrying.
The key, however, is repetition. Imagine a toddler learning to walk. Trying it once and falling down doesn’t mean they don’t get back up and try again.
If you struggle with a mind that constantly worries, first, remember that you’re not alone! It’s a completely normal, human response to our fast-paced and busy lives.
Find some time, morning works well for a lot of people, and start practicing mindfulness for as short as one minute at a time. Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down. Set a silent timer for one minute. Close your eyes and bring all of your attention to your breathing. No need to change it, just notice it. Watch your breath just as you might watch a sunrise or a sunset. When your mind wanders from the breath (and it will!) simply notice and refresh your attention back on your breath.
Do this over and over until your timer marks the end of the minute. With time, you may decide that this is a relaxing state and add more time to your practice.
Know that we will never totally escape our worrying thoughts, but spending some time practicing mindfulness can help to calm the wandering mind and make more space for peace and relaxation.
Related: 18 Best Mindfulness Books
Vicky Woodruff LMSW, MSW
Licensed Social Worker | Founder, Woodruff Counseling
Have you ever gotten stuck in a loop constantly worrying school, work, the car, the house, oh crap did I pay that bill? Many spend their days going through a mental checklist stressing over every detail. Here is the thing, this circular thinking is not helpful.
In fact, you are more likely to forget something because you are never entirely focused on what you are doing. How can you get your concentration back? Get that weight that feels like an elephant on your chest off! Here are a few simple ideas to try.
Often people think they know how to deep breathe but are in fact not doing it correctly. Here is a tip: lay on the floor and place a heavy book such as a dictionary over your belly button. Using only your breath raise the book and lower it slowly. This will help you to learn what deep breathing feels like.
5 senses exercise
There are many ways to do it but essentially scan your body first identifying what you feel, then see, hear, touch, smell, and taste. Sounds strange? I thought so too but it is a way to ground you and help you focus on the present.
Stress is always there so you have to limit its time. Tell stress that you are off the clock. Make time to do things you enjoy and when the thoughts start popping in because you know they will remind yourself that this time is for you. Trust me your worries will wait.
Prioritize yourself and you might find that stress backs down and a little balance and peace are restored.
Internationally Renowned Transformational Energy Healer
Worrying is immensely stressful and it uses up vital energy that would be much better used nourishing yourself. Worry can stimulate the production of both adrenaline and cortisol, leading to stress on the kidneys, insomnia and sleep issues, depressed immune function and much more.
The thing which is most misunderstood about worry is that when the mind is perseverating on something it’s because there is actually a wise and dedicated aspect inside of you that is trying to get your attention.
Unfortunately, very few of us were parented by people who knew how to listen to us, so we learned really unhelpful habits of turning away from or actively trying to ignore ourselves and we never stop to wonder whether there’s another way.
The great news is that you can train yourself to respond to worry in a much more healthy and constructive way that not only slows down or stops the specific worry you address at the moment but also creates a long-term reduction in your tendency to worry, until one day you wake up and realize you haven’t worried about anything for as long as you can remember!
There are a few simple steps you can take now and every single time you find yourself worrying:
Say it out loud
“Oh, I’m worrying! That’s not what I want to be doing with my precious time, energy and attention.” Although you may feel silly speaking to yourself out loud, it’s actually a great way to pause the cycle long enough to allow you to realize that you have a choice!
Put your hand on your own heart and say ‘hello’ to yourself
Your Inner Wise One, the one who is worrying because she’s desperate to keep you safe but is used to be ignored. When you reach out to connect with her, and physically make contact, you build the bridge of connection that will allow her to recognize that she is not alone in figuring out whatever she’s worried about.
Thank the part of you that is worrying
Not in a condescending way but in a truly appreciative way: “Thank you for your sincere love and care and your desire to keep me safe. I’m sorry I haven’t been listening to your needs and your concerns. I would really like to understand what you need and how we can work together to get the outcome you desire”.
Allow the worry to share with you all its concerns, it’s fears, it’s needs
Write it down if you can’t keep track – you may find there’s an avalanche of information when you open up this dialogue – and validate everything that the worrier says, even if it seems wild to the logical, rational part of you!
Give the worrier as much reassurance as you can – that you’re listening, that you too want to find a healthy outcome, that you are a team now and she can always talk to you.
Over time you will find that these inner dialogues have the power to transform the way you relate to yourself. They are immensely powerful in the face of anything arising inside that you don’t understand.
If you need additional help or find yourself getting stuck, you are very welcome to reach out for support. However many people find that just having these basic tools in their toolbox is a life-saver!
“Don’t worry.” These are the least helpful two words for someone who worries a lot, right? But the fact is a lot of us are worrying way too much, thinking about things that will never happen, and generally making ourselves feel miserable a lot of the time for no reason at all.
Realize that it’s unnecessary and unproductive
Worry is a fallacy. It tells us that if we worry enough about something, we will be fully prepared for the worst to happen.
The truth is that no amount of worry can prepare you for the worst life has to offer: the death of a loved one, a car accident, getting fired.
These things aren’t softened by worrying in advance. And yet when they do, we rise. We can handle it. You gain power over worry when you realize that you can handle anything that comes your way, even if it’s awful.
At this point, you can see worry for what it really is: feeling terrible in advance, by choice.
Productivity, Leadership and Communications Coach, Alexis Haselberger Coaching
The 2 best pieces of advice I have on avoiding unnecessary worry are:
Schedule a specific time on your calendar to worry about whatever it is you are worried about
In doing so, your mind can let go, because it knows that there is a time dedicated to this activity. If you schedule the worry time a few days in the future, often you find that by the time you “appointment” rolls around, you no longer need to spend it worrying, because the worry has dissipated.
Ask yourself these three questions
- What is the worst possible scenario here? Usually, you’ll find that it’s not that bad.
- What will I do if the worst happens? You’ll define your plan, so you can stop worrying.
- Can I affect the outcome of this thing I am worried about in any way? If not, then the worrying only has negative effects and no positive effects so you can rationalize stopping the worry. If you can affect the outcome, then you can take action.
Dillon Guillot, MAMFC, PLPC, CSAT Candidate
Professional Counselor, Doug White and Associates
Focus on the present
Life is oftentimes chaotic and I work with people who’s future plans have been drastically and rapidly changed by their addiction, affair, or change in circumstance.
Something I often tell myself and my clients is, when we are in that situation where we over-worried about decisions or what the future holds to focus on being in the present – emotionally, physically, and spiritually. When we engage in the present, we are able to focus on the next steps we need to take.
Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor | Certified Imago Relationship Therapist |
Co-founder of The Marriage Restoration Project
Realize that worrying will not change the outcome
There is an old saying from the great Chasidic Master Rabbi Mordechai of Lechovitch, that one’s biggest worry should be that they worry. If you worry too much, it is in your best interest to learn how to deal with your emotions, becoming unconscious of your underlying fears, and learn ways to relax.
Whether it be prayer, mindfulness, deep breathing, learn tools that will help you get centered and realize that your worrying will not change the outcome. Make the efforts necessary to impact what you would like to see happen and give the rest up to God.
Certified Mental Health Expert, Enlightened Reality | Family Care Professional, Maple Holistics
Validate your worry
Your mind often uses worry as a defense mechanism to protect you from unexpected circumstances. Worrying and overthinking often means that you’re constantly playing out scenarios in your head that may or may not have happened.
Instead of trying to shut those thoughts down, tap into the part of you that is doing the worrying and validate it. It’s trying to protect you; it just doesn’t know that there are better ways of doing so yet.
Instead of resisting, allow your mind to lean into the worry, acknowledge it, and appreciate its version of ‘help’. Don’t focus on the worrying thoughts, but the ‘worry’ as an entity, whatever that might look like for you.
Write it down
A good way to deal with your worries is to make them physical. By writing down your worries, you give yourself the capacity to see them for what they are.
Clarifying your incessant abstract thoughts onto paper helps you to see what is irrational fear and what might need addressing in reality. This can calm your mind and help you to focus on what’s really going on.