Jerri knew she worried too much. She worried about her children. She worried about traveling. She even worried about worrying. "All my life people have called me a worrywart," says the mother of two. "I thought that was just the way I was."
Fear, anxiety, and stress are all parts of worry. Being aware is a good thing, but worrying all the time is not. Over time, worries affect your mind, body, and quality of life.
A Blessing in Disguise
Worrying is often seen as a negative thing. However, some worrying is normal and even helpful. Worry can be an alarm system that keeps you alive and healthy. It may help you take positive actions. For example, if you are worried about your cholesterol level, you may eat healthier. There are times when worrying can help you solve, or even avoid, problems. But, worrying too much, for too long, and for no reason is a problem.
The trick is to use your worry to do something positive. When worry strikes, deal with it head on, or move on and let it go.
How the Body Responds to Worry
Worry causes a chemical reaction in the body. It triggers you to make stress hormones. Stress hormones help you respond to danger by fighting or running away. With worry though, the dangers are often imagined rather than real.
Doubts and fears waste time and drain your energy. Added to that, negative thoughts release stress hormones. This can be bad for your health and your immune system.
Excess worry can lead to sleep problems and more anxiety. All this affects your health and your daily functioning.
Becoming a Worrier
Worry is often a learned behavior. Most of us are taught to worry. How we worry depends on how we grew up and what we were exposed to. Other people begin worrying more after they have a life trauma. They fear that the bad event will happen again. In some people, worry is genetic. This means they are more prone to the behavior due to biology
You will know when your worrying is out of control. It will start affecting your life. Your stress levels will be higher. You will be less focused on things you need to pay attention to.
Lasting, uncontrolled worry can be a sign of a mental health condition. Examples are generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Sometimes these conditions cause severe, unreasonable worry. They may prevent people from functioning in everyday life.
There are some important differences between these two conditions. People with GAD have long term, severe worries about common, everyday things. People with OCD have lasting, unwanted thoughts focusing on one area. For example, they may worry excessively about germs. Those with OCD often rely on repeated behaviors such handwashing.
If you think you may have an anxiety disorder, talk with your doctor. Therapy and medicine can help.
You may not have an anxiety disorder. Maybe you just want to stop worrying so much. Think about how you use your worry. Does it motivate you to do your best at work? If so, shift your focus to rewards rather than punishments. Imagine how great it will feel to finish a project on time. Do this instead of dreading the approaching deadline.
Other tips to ease worrying include:
- Set aside some worry time —Address your worries during a specific time of day. Try to do at the same time in a quiet, comfortable place. Use this time to worry about anything you want. When your time is up, move on to your next task. If something comes up later, write it down. Make a note to worry about it during your next worry time period.
- Get the facts —When you worry, ask yourself if you have a good reason to. Do some research and get information. Worries can be based on myth, not fact. Once you have the facts, your worries may go away.
- Make a plan of action —Think through what you can solve. Accept what you cannot. Make a plan for worries you can resolve. Having a plan will ease your mind. For those you cannot, try to get at the root of the worry. Ask yourself whether it is realistic or out of your control. Some things will be out of your control. It is a normal part of life, so find a way to accept them.
Be sure to get enough sleep, eat well, and get plenty of physical activity. These things can make a big difference in the amount of worry you have. When your body is run down, your mind is more apt to get carried away. For some, prayer and meditation may be a calming force. If none of these methods help, the next step is to talk to a therapist.
Though it is not easy to break the worry habit, it is possible. It depends on how hard you are willing to work. You can overcome constant worry and improve your life in the process.
Anxiety Disorders Association of America
Mental Health America
Canadian Mental Health Association
Mental Health Canada
Generalized anxiety disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/generalized-anxiety-disorder 7. Accessed June 16, 2021.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Anxiety Disorders Association of America website. Available at: http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad. Accessed June 16, 2021.
How to stop worrying. Helpguide website. Available at: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/how-to-stop-worrying.htm. Accessed June 16, 2021.
Last reviewed June 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Last Updated: 6/16/2021