What To Do About Worrying
How much worry is too much worry? Learn the signs and what you can do about it.

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Picture of a bowl with news headlines What To Do About Worrying

Do you find yourself worrying a lot about your children, your finances, your health, or your job? All of us worry from time to time, but dwelling on these issues can affect your health.

You've probably heard the phrase "worried sick." It's true that constant worriers may get headaches, feel nauseated, or have trouble sleeping. Left unchecked, constant worry and stress can even contribute to long-term health risks like high blood pressure, smoking, and overeating.

Some worry is normal. But if you're starting to worry about all the time you spend worrying, it may be time to ask yourself these questions:

  • Does worry interfere with your daily routine or keep you from enjoying favorite activities?
  • Does it have a negative effect on your relationships or job performance?
  • Do you spend more time worrying than just living and enjoying life?

Why do we worry?
When we worry, we think about bad things that might happen or dwell on things that have happened in the past. Sometimes it makes sense to worry, like when you get bad news from the doctor or a poor review at work. In these cases, you may need to prepare for possible bad outcomes. Worrying can also help you feel some control over situations that are out of your hands.

Sometimes we worry because it's easier than being proactive. Worrying about your bank balance and late fees every time you pay a bill won't solve the actual problem of bad budgeting. To do that, you would need to take a hard look at your finances and come to terms with spending changes you'd have to make. Doing so can be harder than worrying about it!

Other times, worrying can feel like "insurance" to prevent bad things from happening. But remember that very few of the things we worry about actually come to pass. More important, worrying can't prevent bad things from happening.

Once a worrier, always a worrier?
A fear of the unknown can trigger worry. If you accept that you can't control everything or be prepared for every possible outcome, it may help you let go of some anxiety.

It may help to try to focus on the problem itself, not the dozens of possible and even unlikely outcomes of a situation that's out of your control. For instance, say to yourself, "I am worried about missing the bus" - not "What if I miss the bus?" That way you limit the scope of your worry by focusing only on the fear itself.

When you feel your thoughts turning to worries about the future, use your senses to focus on the here and now instead. Paying attention to the sights, smells, and sounds around you may help relieve anxiety.

You may also find it reassuring to replay in your mind positive experiences you've had in the past. If you're nervous about a plane trip, for instance, think about all the easy flights you've taken before. Or if you've never flown, remind yourself of the thousands of flights that safely take off and land every day.

Is there help for serious worriers?
Talk to your doctor if worrying interferes with your daily life. You may be suffering from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), a condition marked by intense, constant worry or another anxiety disorder. Treatment - either medication, behavioral therapy, or both - can help you get your thoughts and your life back on track.

By Amanda Genge, Staff Writer
Created on 03/25/2008
Updated on 05/12/2011
Sources:
  • Shearer S, Gordon L. The patient with excessive worry. American Family Physician. 2006;73(6):1049-56.
  • American Academy of Family Physicians. What you should know about worrying too much. American Family Physician. 2006;73(6):1057-58.
  • National Institute of Mental Health. Anxiety disorders.
  • Helpguide. How to stop worrying: self-help strategies for anxiety relief.
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