Everybody worries, but some of us worry more than others. Chronic worrying can be a habit we developed at some point in our lives or it could be the symptom of an anxiety disorder, which 40 million adults in the United States experience each year.
Excessive worrying can take a toll on our physical health. Chronic worry can trigger our “fight or flight” response. This prompts the sympathetic nervous system to release stress hormones, such as cortisol, which can increase blood sugar levels and triglycerides. All of this can negatively affect our immune system, digestion, and even cause heart problems.
Whether worrying is an annoyance we deal with from time to time, or it has begun to interfere with daily life, these are some ways to take action and feel more consistently calm, serene, and under control.
Make a list and check it twice. Take some time to sit down and write a list of every worry you can produce, no matter how unlikely or insignificant they might seem. Then, thoughtfully consider each list entry. About 85% of the things we worry about never come to pass. We can choose to worry more productively by taking steps to avoid or prepare for things we can and to let go of things we have no control over, especially those that probably won’t happen.
Count your blessings. Studies have shown that thankfulness and appreciation can greatly relieve anxieties about everything from schoolwork to dying. We can easily learn to practice gratitude daily with practices such as journaling things we are thankful for, meditating on all the goodness in our lives, and calling or writing letters to people who have made our lives better to recognize our appreciation for them.
Schedule worry time. This technique can help us manage chronic worrying by reducing the amount of time we spend worrying about things outside of our control. Establish a time every day when you can comfortably devote 15 minutes to nothing but worrying.
Find a spot where you can avoid interruptions but choose a place that’s not particularly comfortable (choose a hard chair or concrete bench over your bed or sofa) and plan something enjoyable immediately after worry time, such as having a snack or watching a video. If worries pop into your mind during the day, remind yourself that you can think about them during worry time.
Meditate. Experts have found that learning and practicing mindfulness meditation techniques can be an effective way to quell chronic worrying. Harvard University recommends finding a quiet space to settle in and close your eyes. Then, breathing deeply, relax and focus on your breath, acknowledging and releasing any thoughts that come into your mind. Try to meditate this way at least 10 minutes every day, or 20 minutes twice a day for maximum benefit.
Put an end to procrastination. Worrying and procrastination often go hand-in-hand. There are several reasons why we might put things off, but worrying -about not doing an excellent job, feeling overwhelmed by a task, or facing disapproval, for example- is a common culprit. In turn, those tasks hanging over our heads can cause us to fret even more, prompting a stressful cycle.
Find ways to encourage yourself to stop dawdling and get things done. For example, commit to working on a task for just 15 minutes. Set a timer and start right away. Once we begin, we tend to get in a groove and keep going. But even if we don’t, at least we’ll have accomplished something.
Check your self-talk. As soon as a worry creeps in, note it and consider how realistic it is. If necessary, develop a plan to cope should it happen. Better yet, do something to prevent it, if possible. Speak to yourself calmly and compassionately, reminding yourself how many things you are grateful for and how capable you are at handling whatever life throws your way.
Express those emotions. When we keep worries to ourselves, they can take on a life of their own. Bouncing our concerns off someone we trust can help us view them in a more accurate light, improving our perspective and helping us get a handle on chronic worrying.
Get physical. If we need another reason to get adequate exercise, perhaps this is the one. Physical activity releases endorphins, those feel-good chemicals in the brain that improve our sense of well-being. It can take our minds off our worries, breaking the cycle of negative thinking. It also provides a healthier way of coping with our concerns than other methods, such as drinking alcohol, binge eating, or compulsive spending.
Seek a helping hand. An empathetic, skilled therapist can offer guidance, insight, and support as you work on stop chronic worrying. For example, your therapist might help you discover triggers, such as past experiences and thinking patterns. They can also suggest tools, lifestyle changes, and practices you can put into play, helping you take the reins on your thoughts and gaining more peace.