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Published March 5, 2021
Almost everyone gets worried from time to time. When you’re preparing for a big presentation, have a lot of tasks on your plate, or are going through some personal changes, it’s normal to have the occasional sleepless night.
But sometimes an ongoing sense of worry can be hard to shake.
It’s easy to feel like you’re alone when you’re feeling anxious (despite 59% of adults reporting a daily sense of worry in 2020).
And that frequent concern can diminish your quality of life.
When feelings of anxiety make it hard to stay present, it's time to start looking for ways to reduce your stress.
Escaping the worry cycle can seem tough when you’re in it, but it can be easier than you think.
In this article, we’ll give you the tools you need to get your stress and worry under control.
What makes us worry?
For better or for worse, worrying is part of how we’ve evolved as humans. But what causes us to worry?
Our central nervous system often responds to moments of stress and fear by worrying. The definition of worry is a disturbing thought that causes uneasiness or anxiety.
We often try to use worry as a prompt to preemptively solve a problem. If you anticipate that something bad will happen, you may feel that worrying can soften the blow of negative emotion later and help you find a solution before the worst-case scenario comes to pass.
However, usually, we can’t alleviate our worries right away. As we spend more time worrying, it can lead to chronic stress that takes a toll on our bodies. Thankfully, there are steps we can take to mitigate our stress and feel better almost instantly.
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Am I worrying too much?
When you’re feeling good, a passing worrying thought might not seem like cause for concern.
But, when you’re a chronic worrier, it can sometimes feel impossible to stop your negative thinking. This type of worry can lead to physical symptoms like muscle tension, insomnia, stomach pain, and even a panic attack.
If it feels like excessive worry is interfering with your daily life, then it’s time to start looking for solutions to reduce your stress, but it can be a challenge.
Why is it so hard to stop worrying?
Worrying is an easy habit to get into. Once you’ve developed a habit of worrying, it may become natural for your mind to default to negative thinking.
If you haven’t practiced shifting worries into positive thoughts, it can be tough to get started. Plus, it may seem like worrying and procrastinating is what’s motivating you to check off your to do list.
When we think worrying benefits us, it may seem like relieving stress will make us lazy or unproductive. Sometimes, we may even feel like our worry is protecting us from bad outcomes!
These pervasive myths can make us less inclined to stop worrying, even when we know it’s not good for our health. However, we always have the ability to stop worry in its tracks when we notice it coming on.
How worrying affects your body
One of the most insidious parts about worrying is the effect it has on our physical, mental, and emotional health. In fact, over a third of Americans visited a doctor over a stress-related illness in 2018, and many illnesses may be perpetuated by stress.
Along with causing physical symptoms, worry and stress can make it harder to recover from illness, too. Here are a few ways worry may be impacting your overall well-being.
1. Excessive worry can make you physically ill
Constant worrying goes beyond having butterflies in your stomach.
You may not even notice that you’re feeling worried until you feel the physical signs. Headaches, stomach aches, muscle tension, and shortness of breath can be indications that you’re experiencing excessive worry.
They can also serve as a sign to examine how you’re feeling, practice deep breathing, and relieve your worry. Below, you’ll find a detailed list of techniques that can help you feel better fast.
2. Worry can cause a stress response
Ongoing worry can quickly evolve into chronic stress. When you have a stress response, you may have a tough time identifying exactly what worrying thoughts got you there.
Over time, repetitive negative thoughts can trigger other stress responses in your body. While it may seem like your mind is going a mile a minute, tracking your thoughts and the physical sensations in your body can help slow stress.
3. Worrying too much can affect your daily life
Worry begets worry, so it’s easy to start worrying about one thing and end up worrying about even more areas of your life.
When worry becomes part of your everyday life, it can show up at work, with your family, in your finances, and even in your hobbies.
Excessive worry can leave you feeling frozen. When you’re in a positive state of mind, it’s easy to pursue activities that make you feel good. However, when you’re feeling anxious or worried, it feels challenging to find relief.
Over time, worrying too much can impact your emotional resilience, degrade your relationships, decrease your satisfaction in life, and make completing necessary tasks harder. Taking steps to alleviate your worry can bring relief and happiness to your life, quickly reversing the effects of excessive worry.
How can you stop worrying?
As we can see, chronic worry can quickly start to negatively impact your day to day life. Thankfully, with a little practice, we can make excessive worry a thing of the past.
Noticing when you’re feeling worried and stopping it early is the first step to feeling better. Once you’ve noticed that you’re worried, there are a few handy tools and techniques that can help you find relief.
Try these powerful strategies to kick worrying to the curb.
1. Try mindfulness and meditation
While worrying, you may have a hard time focusing on anything else.
When you feel your concentration waning, sitting in a quiet room and clearing your mind can do wonders for your well-being. Mindfulness and meditation can take your focus away from negative thoughts and inspire a state of calm.
A guided meditation app can help you practice clearing your mind, refocusing your thoughts, or distracting yourself from your worries. Over time, meditation can help you get into a flow state, which allows you to focus on your priorities and knock tasks off your to-do list with ease.
2. Practice deep breathing
When we worry, we often focus on things that will happen in the future. Staying in the current moment can help relieve worries and reduce physical symptoms.
You may experience shortness of breath or chest pain when you start to worry. Practicing deep breathing can redirect your attention from your worries and help you become grounded in the present.
Whether you’re having trouble sleeping or you feel a panic attack coming on, deep breathing is a quick and easy way to get your body back on track.
3. Do a body scan
When you’re worrying, it’s natural to tighten your muscles. Over time, raised shoulders or a tight jaw can cause chronic muscle tension. The more you worry, the more tension you continuously carry in your body.
As you notice yourself feeling worried, take a deep breath and notice where you feel tension. Scanning your body can help you reconnect to the present and feel more grounded.
Start at your toes and give dedicated attention to each part of your body up to your head. When you feel tension, focus on breathing into that discomfort and physically relaxing.
4. Talk to others
It’s easy to get lost in your thoughts when you’re worrying. You may end up turning a molehill into a mountain without even realizing it! Even if you feel tempted to isolate yourself, connecting with others can transform your emotional well-being.
Sharing your concern with someone else can help you maintain perspective. Many times, our worries are irrational, but they don’t seem that way in our own minds. Talking with friends, family, or a professional can offer a new view of the situation and distract you from your worries.
5. Turn your negative thoughts around
As we focus on one negative thought, it primes our brain to look for more. And more negative thoughts usually follow. Looking for a silver lining can help train your brain to be on the look out for positives and interrupt the cycle of constant worry. This is one reason why a daily gratitude practice can be so helpful.
If you’re having trouble finding something to be grateful for about a situation, take a step back and look for what is interesting about the situation or even funny or ridiculous. In addition to gratitude, engaging your mind through curiosity and humor can quickly shift you into a better place and provide a break from the negative. You can even try to be curious about the way you worry!
While it may take practice, learning to turn your negative thoughts around can make constant worry a thing of the past.
6. Keep a daily emotions journal
Chronic stress and anxiety happen when we don’t notice the first signs of worry and stop it in its tracks. Checking in with ourselves is an important component of maintaining mental wellness.
By the time we’re in a worry cycle, we often feel disconnected from our emotions. Keeping a daily journal can help you track patterns and preempt stress before it feels out of control.
As you practice journaling your emotions and sharing your thoughts, it becomes easier to identify when you’re starting to worry. Catching worry early will ultimately help you feel better and stay focused on what matters most to you.
7. Maintain a regular sleep schedule
Insomnia is a common side effect of constant worry. When your mind is running wild, it can be tough to relax and get enough sleep.
While you may feel like staying up and thinking will help you “solve” your worries, you’re often better off with a restorative night’s sleep. Without sleep, minor worries can trigger a stress response that perpetuates for days or weeks in a row.
Late nights and early mornings can wreak havoc on your well-being. If your mind is racing, meditating, journaling, or doing a body scan can help you settle before bed.
A quiet, dark, and cool room can also make it easier for you to sleep. Focus on making your sleep space as soothing and comfortable as possible to prioritize healthy sleep habits.
8. Distinguish between what you can control and what you can’t
Worrying is often focused on a problem that needs to be controlled. Many people falsely believe that spending more time worrying about a problem will make it easier to find a solution.
Often, we worry about situations that might happen in the future rather than what’s happening right now.
If you’re preparing for an interview, you may be able to relieve your worries and control the situation by researching the company or the interviewer. But, if you’re waiting for the results of an interview, worrying about the results won’t solve the problem because it’s out of your control.
Even if you feel concerned about something, that doesn’t always mean it’s within your realm of control to change it. When you’re worrying, ask yourself, “What can I control?” This can help you be more proactive when there is something you can do, and release your worry when you discover there’s nothing you need to do about the situation.
When you notice there’s nothing you need to control right now, you can stop searching for a solution and let yourself relax.
9. Get moving
Focusing on your body can help ground you in the present moment, so exercise is a great way to redirect your energy. Even if your mind is racing, going for a walk or run may help shift your attention. Your physical health is an important buffer against constant worry as it is harder to break the cycle when you don't feel well or have low energy.
Listening to music is a powerful way to drown out your worries. Hitting the gym with your headphones in can get your blood pumping and help you feel better quickly.
Even simple stretches can help reduce worry. Relieving tension in your neck, back, legs, and arms can lead to a flood of endorphins.
10. Take positive action
Doing something you love is a great way to keep your stress at bay. Even when it feels difficult to pursue your hobbies, taking a small step doing something you enjoy can be transformative.
Not only does taking positive action distract you from your worries, but it also lets you expel extra energy. Focusing on any activity that makes you feel good can quickly shift your state of mind.
Whether it’s painting, watching your favorite movie, or taking your dog for a walk, finding a positive action can take your attention away from your worry. Even something as simple as washing the dishes or cleaning your home can set your mind at ease when you’re feeling worried.
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