Worrying is a normal part of the human experience — everyone does it from time to time. But left unchecked, it can have effects on both your physical and mental health.
But what exactly is worrying? Worry is defined as distress caused by something that you might possibly experience in the future. The object of worry could be anything from a presentation you have to give in 30 minutes, to developing a serious health condition 20 years from now.
While there’s no way to rid yourself of these thoughts completely, it’s possible to reduce their negative effects significantly.
Here are seven tips to keep in your back pocket to keep your worries under control.
Practicing mindfulness meditation involves focusing your attention on the present moment. This can help to keep your thoughts from racing. Clinical psychotherapist Kevon Owen explains that mindfulness meditation is “designed to take you out of your mind.”
The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, follow these steps:
- Find a quiet place where you can relax comfortably.
- Close your eyes and take a deep breath.
- Notice your thoughts without passing judgement on them.
- Gently return to your usual pattern of breathing.
- Continue letting your thoughts pass for 10 minutes while you sit comfortably with your eyes closed.
“It sounds like an oversimplification,” says Owen, “but increasing your oxygen levels lowers the physiological effects of anxiety on your body.”
In other words, your heart rate goes down, your muscles relax, and your mind slows down — all of which can aid in reducing worry.
There are several breathing exercises that can help induce a state of calm, including:
Here’s a simple deep-breathing exercise to try the next time you find yourself worrying:
- Choose a comfortable place to sit or lie down and close your eyes.
- Breathe in through your nose, imagining a sense of calm filling your body.
- Slowly breathe out through your mouth, visualizing all of your worries and tensions leaving your body.
- Repeat this process as many times as you need.
Conjuring soothing images can be a powerful way to slow down a racing mind. It’s a powerful strategy to enhance your coping skills.
The next time you feel tense, try these steps to combat negative thoughts:
- Begin by sitting in a comfortable position or lying down.
- Take a few deep breaths and imagine yourself in a peaceful, natural setting, like a forest or meadow.
- Use all of your senses to visualize the setting, paying special attention to the colors, smells, and sounds. Do this for several minutes.
- Count to three and slowly open your eyes.
When you’re worried, it’s normal to store tension in your muscles. A body scan meditation can help bring your focus back to your body so you can start to release the stress you’re holding.
- Start by directing your attention toward your scalp, bringing all of your attention to your sensations. Are you feeling any tension or tightness there?
- From your scalp, direct the attention to the forehead, then the eyebrows, temples, ears, and so on.
- Continue slowly scanning down your body. Briefly sense each body part as you go.
- Continue all the way to the tips of your toes.
- When you’re done, you can wiggle your fingers and toes and slowly open your eyes.
Talking with someone who’s dealt with your same worries or understands your situation can provide much-needed validation and support.
One of the best ways to feel less alone is to share your concerns with friends who take the time to listen and understand what you’re going through.
Rather than bottling up your worries, call a close friend and set up a coffee date. Let them know you just need a moment to vent or talk things through.
There may also be members of your community to who you can open up. This includes religious figures, mentors, or wellness professionals. You may also want to enlist the help of a licensed therapist.
Keeping a record of your worries can help you analyze and process your feelings. Starting a worry journal can be as easy as grabbing a pen and jotting down a few pages before bed or whenever your mind becomes restless throughout the day.
Simply writing down your thoughts about a bothersome situation may allow you to look at them in a new light.
As you write down your concerns, here are a few questions to keep in mind:
- What exactly are you worried about?
- What are your feelings about the situation?
- How realistic are your worries?
- What’s the worst-case scenario?
- Are there any concrete steps you can take to tackle the object of your worry?
- If not, is it possible to let your worry go?
You’ve probably heard it a million times, but exercise can have a significant, positive impact on your mental state. It doesn’t have to involve a vigorous gym session or a 10-mile hike. Even a 10-minute walk around the block can help calm a racing mind.
For adults 18 to 64, the
According to a 2019 study of 682 German recreational athletes, athletes who met the 150-minute benchmark experienced better mental health than those who didn’t.
Worrying is a natural instinct that protects you from threatening situations by making you more vigilant.
For example, let’s suppose that you worry about losing your job. In response to this worry, you might improve your performance, start networking for new opportunities or build up your savings.
These are all healthy responses to concerns about your job security, says clinical psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD.
So when does worrying become anxiety? Though it can be a fine line, when it comes to worrying, you’ll find that:
- you’re able to redirect your attention to another topic or task
- it comes and goes without becoming obsessive
- you’re able to keep your worries in perspective
- it may cause mild, temporary tension
- it occurs as a result of real events, not mental chatter
- it may be productive, encouraging you to take action
Anxiety, on the other hand, may:
- linger even when you don’t want it to
- cause powerful physiological symptoms
- negatively affect your quality of life
- lead to recurring, unwanted thoughts
- lead to worst-case-scenario thinking
- may interfere with responsibilities and relationships
As mentioned above, worry typically comes with a mild amount of generalized physical tension. This tension is usually temporary and doesn’t affect you once the worrying stops. It may include:
- increased heart rate
- feeling warm
- muscle tension
When worry crosses over into anxiety, you may experience more intense physiological symptoms, like:
- tightness in the chest
- numbness and tingling
- stomach pain
- digestive issues
- shortness of breath
An older 2008 study of 380 primary care patients noted that those with gastrointestinal symptoms were five times more likely to be experiencing severe depression and four times more likely to be experiencing severe anxiety.
According to a 2014 study, 74 percent of primary care patients with generalized anxiety disorder report difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.
While it’s normal to worry from time to time, excessive worry and anxiety can take a toll on your health.
Consider seeking professional help if your worries or anxieties start to have a noticeable impact on your day-to-day life, including your:
- eating habits
- sleep quality
- relationships with others
- performance at work or school
- ability to care for yourself or dependents
To get help, you can start by talking with your primary healthcare professional. They can give you a referral to a therapist or other professional who specializes in dealing with excessive worrying. You can also try finding one on your own.
How to find a therapist
Finding a therapist can feel daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Start by asking yourself a few basic questions:
- What issues do you want to address? These can be specific or vague.
- Are there any specific traits you’d like in a therapist? For example, are you more comfortable with someone who shares your gender?
- How much can you realistically afford to spend per session? Do you want someone who offers sliding-scale prices or payment plans?
- Where will therapy fit into your schedule? Do you need a therapist who can see you on a specific day of the week? Or someone who has nighttime sessions?
Next, start making a list of therapists in your area. If you live in the United States, head over the American Psychological Association’s psychologist locator or Healthline’s FindCare.
Concerned about the cost? Our guide to affordable therapy can help, and there are plenty of low-cost online options.
Understanding that worry is a normal part of being human is the first step in diminishing its effects.
It’s okay to feel nervous now and again, but when your concerns become excessive or begin affecting your daily life, it may be time to seek professional help.
Try to be kind to yourself during this process, and remember to set aside a few moments in your day for self-care.