By understanding why we worry so much, we can find ways to cope with and minimize unhelpful thoughts.
There’s no denying that excessive worrying can take a toll on our health. Mentally, it can lead to anxiety and depression, and physically, it can elevate our stress levels and weaken our immune systems.
Above all, worrying too much can prevent us from living a happy and healthy life. When we think about everything that can go wrong in the future, we’re missing out on what’s right in front of us.
But there are ways to manage your tendencies to worry. Decreasing worrisome thoughts can help us savor the present moment.
Why do some people spend so much time and energy worrying? According to two experts in the field, there are three main reasons:
1. Your natural alarm system alerts you to potential danger
Human bodies are designed to protect you, and when you sense a threat (real or perceived), a stress signal is sent to the brain. In everyday life, this can manifest in the form of worrying. And while it can be
“We worry because we’re constantly trying to figure out how to solve problems. By nature, humans are problem-solvers,” says Valentina Dragomir, a psychotherapist and founder of PsihoSensus.
“As soon as we identify a problem (even if it’s just something that’s been nagging at us), our brains start churning out possible solutions. And the more emotionally invested we are in a problem, the more worry we feel,” she says.
Worry is caused by the anticipation of a future negative event. It’s a type of anxiety that’s usually based on irrational thoughts, Dragomir adds. These include: “What if something bad happens?” or “What if I can’t handle it?”
2. Fear of losing control
While people may worry for a wide variety of reasons, it mostly comes from a place of fear — either a fear of being judged or a fear of something happening that they can’t control.
“Sometimes, people worry because they have a lot of responsibility at work or at home, and sometimes people worry because their life is just generally chaotic and uncertain,” Dragomir explains.
3. Caring too much
Anxious people may have trouble stopping themselves from getting overly invested in a worrisome line of thought.
Alex Dimitriu, MD, double board certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine and BrainFoodMD, sees anxiety as a problem of “caring too much” and overthinking.
From an evolutionary standpoint, having anxious people in your life may help you stay one step ahead of danger, but that instinct often fails to separate necessary worry from unnecessary worry.
“Some of us are programmed to explore and take risks, while others are programmed to be cautious, thoughtful, and conservative. Too much of any one thing is never good, and this is true with both anxiety as well as risk-taking, on the other extreme,” Dimitriu says.
Depending on which end of the spectrum you’re closer to, it’s usually beneficial to try to find a middle ground.
If you’re a risk-taker, you may enjoy a relaxing night in and slowing down every now and then. If you’re on the cautious side, on the other hand, you may surprise yourself at how fun and healthy it can be to step out of your comfort zone.
Worrying can be exhausting, but there are ways to learn to cope with and manage worrying. Here are some tips to consider.
Acknowledge your worries
The first step in dealing with worry is acknowledging its presence. Try not to see it as a disorder, but as a symptom of caring or thinking too much. “Become aware that it exists, and in most cases has been a lifelong pattern,” says Dimitriu.
Reframe your thoughts
Next, consider asking yourself, “What is the utility of this thought?” In other words, is this thought helping you in any way? By reframing your perspective and starting to think in this way, you can start to accept what you cannot change.
Determining what thoughts are necessary to focus on, and which you can safely move on from, can help give your brain the space it needs to rest. This can free up your brain to instead focus on your basic needs, such as eating nutritious foods and getting enough sleep.
It may also give you the time and energy to add stress-reducing activities into your life.
5 tips for managing worries
Here are five such activities that can help you manage your worry on a daily basis:
- Exercise regularly. Even walking for 20 minutes a few times a week can be a powerful stress management tool.
- Meditate for 10 to 15 minutes daily. There are many meditation apps that can guide you through your practice.
- Use deep breathing. Learning deep breathing techniques can help engage your body’s relaxation response so you can get some space from your worrisome thoughts.
- Start a journal. Writing down your thoughts and feelings for 20 minutes each day can help you understand and work through feelings of worry. If you don’t know what to write about, writing prompts can help you get started.
- Build a support network. Speaking about your thoughts and feelings with trusted friends and family can help you process the thoughts and feel supported along the way.
Books for learning to manage worries
For those interested in reading more about how to reduce worry, consider these book recommendations:
- “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle
- “Don’t Feed the Monkey Mind: How to Stop the Cycle of Anxiety, Fear, and Worry” by Jennifer Shannon
- “The Worry Trick: How Your Brain Tricks You Into Expecting the Worst and What You Can Do About It” by David A. Carbonell
The best part about worrying less? You can start to focus on what really matters and enjoy life.
Worrying can be uncomfortable and may even deeply impact your life.
The first step is to make a list of what you worry about. Try to pay attention to your inner dialogue. Consider starting a daily journaling ritual so you can keep track of your thoughts and observe any patterns.
Along with becoming aware of your unhelpful thoughts, try practicing:
Creating a strong support system of friends and family can help you as you set out on your healing journey.
If the worrying persists, consider consulting with a mental health professional. If you don’t know where to find support, check out Psych Central’s guide to finding a therapist.