Worries, doubts and worries are a normal part of life. But when can we classify something as too much worry? It is natural to worry about an unpaid bill, an upcoming job interview, or a first date. But when “normal” anxiety becomes persistent and uncontrollable, it becomes extreme. Every day you worry about “whatever” and worst-case scenarios, anxious thoughts haunt your head and affect your daily life.
Too much worrying, thinking negatively, and always expecting the worst can harm your emotional and physical health. Too much worry can reduce your emotional strength, make you feel restless and nervous, cause insomnia, headache, stomach problems and muscle tension, and make it difficult for you to concentrate at work or school. You can remove your negative emotions from those closest to you, self-medicate with alcohol or drugs, or try to distract them by zoning them in front of screens. Chronic anxiety can also be the main symptom of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), a common anxiety disorder that includes tension, irritability, and a general feeling of restlessness that colors your whole life.
If you are bothered by exaggerated anxiety and nervousness, there are steps you can take to eliminate too much worry. Chronic anxiety is a mental habit that can be broken. You can train your brain to stay calm and look at life from a more balanced, less fearful perspective.
Why is it so hard to stop worrying?
Worrying all the time can come at a heavy price. It can keep you up at night and make you nervous and irritable during the day. And even if you hate feeling like a nervous wreck, it can still be very difficult to stop. For most chronic worries, anxious thoughts are fueled by the beliefs you have about worrying – both positive and negative:
Negative beliefs about anxiety. You may believe that your constant anxiety is harmful, will drive you crazy or affect your physical health. Or you may worry that you will lose all control over your anxiety – that this will take control and it will never stop. Negative beliefs or worrying about anxiety increase and perpetuate your anxiety, while positive beliefs about anxiety can be just as damaging.
Positive beliefs about anxiety. You may believe that your anxiety helps you avoid the bad things, prevents problems, prepares you for the worst, or leads to solutions. Perhaps you tell yourself that if you keep worrying about a problem long enough, you can eventually fix it? You see too much worry as a good thing?
Or are you convinced that too much worrying is a responsible thing or that it is the only way to make sure you don’t miss something? If you believe that your anxiety serves a positive purpose, it’s hard to break your anxiety habit. Once you realize that worrying is the problem, not the solution, you can regain control of your anxious mind.
Stop worrying tip # 1: Create a daily “worry” period
It’s difficult to be productive in your daily activities when anxiety and worry dominate your thoughts and take you away from work, school, or home life. This is where a delaying worry strategy can help. Instead of trying to stop or get rid of an too much worry, allow yourself to have it, but then stop dwelling on it.
Establish an “anxiety period”. Choose a specific time and place to worry. It should be the same every day (for example, in the living room between 5 pm and 5 pm) and be too early just before you go to bed to worry you. During your anxiety period, you are allowed to worry about what’s on your mind. But the rest of the day is a worry-free zone.
Write down your concerns. If you think of an anxious thought or concern during the day, make a short note and then continue your day. Remind yourself that you will have time to think later, so you don’t have to worry right now. Also, writing down your thoughts in a notebook or on your phone or computer is a much more difficult task than thinking about them, so your worries are more likely to lose power.
Go over your “worry list” during the worry period. If the thoughts you are typing are still bothering you, allow yourself to worry, but only for the time, you set for your anxiety period. When examining your concerns this way, you will find that it is often easier to develop a more balanced perspective. If your worries no longer seem important, shorten your worry period and enjoy the rest of the day.
Tip 2: Challenge anxious thoughts
If you suffer from chronic anxiety and too much worrying, chances are you are looking at the world in ways that make it appear more threatening than it is. For example, you can exaggerate the chances of things turning out badly, jump right into the worst-case scenarios, or treat every worrying thought as if it were real. You can also discredit your ability to solve life’s problems, assuming you will dissipate at the first sign of trouble. These types of thoughts, known as cognitive distortions, include:
Do not look at things in black or white categories with no mid-point, all or nothing thinking. “If everything isn’t perfect, I’m a total failure.”
Overgeneralization from a single negative experience, waiting forever to be true. “I was not hired for this job. I will never get a job.”
Focusing on the negatives while filtering out the positives. Recognizing the only thing that goes wrong rather than everything that goes right. “I got the last question wrong on the test. I’m an idiot.”
Finding reasons why positive events are not counted. “I was good at the presentation, but it was just stupid luck.”
Making negative comments without real evidence. You act like a mind reader: “I can say you secretly hate me.” Or a fortune teller: “I just know something terrible will happen.”
Waiting for the worst-case scenario to happen. The pilot said we would go into a little turbulence. The plane will crash! “
Believing that the way you feel reflects reality. I feel like an idiot. Everyone must be laughing at me. “
Keeping yourself on a strict list of what you should and shouldn’t do and beat yourself if you break any of the rules. I should never have tried to chat with him. I’m such an idiot. “
Labelling yourself based on mistakes and perceived shortcomings. “I am a failure; I am bored; I deserve to be alone.”
Taking responsibility for things beyond your control. It is my fault that my son had an accident. I should have warned him to drive carefully in the rain.
Too much worrying comes from just accepting negative thoughts.
How to combat these “too much worry” thoughts
During your anxiety period, challenge your negative thoughts by asking yourself:
What is the evidence that the thought is correct? Is not it right?
Is there a more positive and realistic view of the situation?
What is the probability that what I fear is happening? If the probability is low, what are some of the more likely outcomes?
Did the thought help? How will worrying about this help me and how will it hurt me?
What would I say to a friend who has this worry?
Tip 3: Distinguish between resolvable and unsolvable worries
Research shows that when you worry, you temporarily feel less anxious. Going over the problem in your head takes you away from your emotions and makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something. But worry and problem-solving are two very different things. Too much worry can then lead you away from reality.
Problem-solving involves evaluating a situation, taking concrete steps to deal with it, and then putting the plan into action. On the other hand, too much worrying rarely leads to solutions. No matter how much time you spend on worst-case scenarios, you are no longer ready to deal with them in case they happen.
Can your concern be resolved?
Productive, resolvable concerns are worries that you can act on right away. For example, if you are concerned about your bills, you can call your creditors for information on flexible payment options. Inefficient, unresolved concerns are worries where there is no corresponding action. What if I get cancer one day? or “What if my child has an accident?”
If the worry can be resolved, start brainstorming. Make a list of all the possible solutions you can think of. Try not to get too attached to finding the perfect solution. Focus on what you have the power to change, rather than circumstances or facts beyond your control. Make an action plan after considering your options. Once you have a plan and start doing something about the problem, you’ll feel a lot less anxious.
If the worry is not resolvable, accept the uncertainty. If you have a chronic concern, the vast majority of your anxious thoughts probably fall into this camp. Worrying is often the way we try to predict what to expect in the future – away to avoid unpleasant surprises and control the outcome. The problem is, it doesn’t work.
Thinking about everything that could go wrong doesn’t make life more predictable. Focusing on worst-case scenarios will keep you from just enjoying the good things you have right now. To stop worrying, tackle your need for precision and immediate response.
Do you tend to predict bad things just because they are uncertain? What are the chances of it happening?
Given the very low probability, is it possible to live with the low probability of something negative happening?
Ask your friends and family how they deal with uncertainty in specific situations. Can you do the same
Tune in to your feelings. too much worrying about uncertainty is often a way to avoid unpleasant feelings. But by adjusting your emotions, you can begin to accept your feelings, even those that feel uncomfortable or don’t make sense.
Tip 4: Cut the anxiety cycle in half
If you are extremely anxious, it may seem like negative thoughts are floating in your head on endless repetitions. You may feel out of control, mad, or about to be exhausted under the weight of all this anxiety. However, there are steps you can take immediately to break up all those anxious thoughts and give yourself a time out of cruel worries.
Get up and take action. Exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment because it releases endorphins that reduce tension and stress, increase energy and increase your sense of well-being. More importantly, by really focusing on how your body feels as you move, you can cut off the constant stream of worry running through your head. For example, pay attention to the feeling of your feet hitting the ground or the rhythm of your breathing or the feeling of sun or wind on your skin while walking, running or dancing.
Take a yoga or tai chi class. By focusing your mind on your movements and breathing, practising yoga or tai chi keeps your attention in the present, helping to clear your mind and lead to a relaxed state.
Meditate. Meditation works by shifting your focus from worrying about the future or focusing on the past to what is happening now. By fully engaging in the present moment, you can interrupt the endless cycle of negative thoughts and worries. And you don’t need to sit cross-legged, light candles or incense, or sing hymns. Find a quiet, comfortable place and choose from many free or inexpensive smartphone apps that can guide you through the meditation process.
Practice gradual muscle relaxation. This can help you break the endless cycle of anxiety by focusing your mind on your body instead of your thoughts. By alternately stretching and then releasing different muscle groups in your body, you reduce the muscle tension in your body. And as your body relaxes, your mind will follow it.
Try breathing deeply. When you worry, you worry and you breathe faster, which usually leads to more anxiety. However, you can calm your mind and silence negative thoughts by doing deep breathing exercises.
Tip 5: Talk about your Concerns
It may seem like a simple solution, but talking face to face with a friend or family member you trust – that will listen to you without judgment, criticism, or constant distraction – is one of the most effective ways to calm your nervous system and common anxiety. When your worries start to spiral, talking about them can make them much less threatening.
Keeping the worries to yourself only causes them to grow until they seem overwhelming. However, saying them out loud can often help you understand how you feel and put things into perspective. If your fears are unfair, expressing them verbally can reveal them for what they are – unnecessary worries. And if your fears are justified, sharing them with someone else can produce solutions you can’t think of alone.
Build a strong support system. Humans are social creatures. We don’t have to live in isolation. However, a strong support system does not necessarily mean a large network of friends. Do not underestimate the usefulness of the few people you can trust and believe will be on your side. And if you feel like someone you can trust, it’s never too late to make new friends.
Know who to avoid when you feel anxious. Your anxious attitude to life may be something you learned while growing up. If your mom is a chronic concern, she’s not the best person you can call when you’re feeling anxious, no matter how close you are. While thinking about whom to turn to, ask if you would feel better or worse after talking to that person about a problem.
Tip 6: Practice mindfulness
Young woman leaning on desk chair embracing her back, hands-on hug, chin up, eyes closed
Anxiety often focuses on the future – what might happen and what to do with it – or the past by reshaping what you said or did. Centuries of mindfulness practice can help you relieve your anxiety by bringing your attention back to the present. This strategy helps you observe your anxieties and then let them go, identify where your thinking is causing problems, and make contact with your emotions.
Accept your concerns and observe. Do not try to ignore them, fight or control them as you always do. Instead, observe them from an outsider’s point of view without reacting or judging.
Let go of your worries. Notice that when you don’t try to control the anxious thoughts that arise, they soon pass by like clouds moving across the sky. You only get stuck when you are preoccupied with your worries.
Focus on the present. Pay attention to how your body feels, the rhythm of your breathing, your constantly changing emotions, and the thoughts floating in your mind. If you find yourself hanging on to a particular thought, bring your attention back to the present moment.
Repeat every day. Using mindfulness to focus on the present is a simple concept, but reaping benefits takes time and regular practice. At first, you’ll likely find your mind reverting to your worries. Try not to get angry. Every time you shift your focus to the present, you are reinforcing a new mental habit that will help you break out of the negative anxiety cycle.
You can also learn more about the scientific benefits of meditation here.