We all worry. We worry about our children’s grades or the influence their friends might have on them. We worry about meetings with our boss at work or the deadline for the project. We are constantly concerned about the political situation, economic stability, etc. We’re anxious about anything that might have a negative impact on us, on our health, emotional well-being and that of our loved ones. But why do we worry so much? What can we do to worry less?
“Worrying is like sitting in a rocking chair.
It gives you something to do but it doesn’t get you anywhere.”
Negative emotions are usually stronger than positive ones. They are easily available in our minds and it is more difficult to push them aside. This is known as a negativity bias. Our brain is built with a greater sensitivity to unpleasant news. Studies done by John Cacioppo where he showed people pictures to arouse positive feelings, negative feels and neutral feelings. He demonstrated that the brain reacts more strongly to stimuli that it deems negative.
Our brain weighs negative input so heavily because it is trying to keep us out of harm’s way. From an evolutionary point of view, this negativity bias is necessary for our survival as a species. Since we were cavemen, we would only trust what and who we know. We would worry about what we could eat, which animals to run away from, etc.
However, this is not as useful to us now as it was before. Although our goal is not to eliminate negative thoughts and worries completely, excessive optimism is not the answer but rather the midpoint.
So why worry? To some extent worrying is positive because it encourages us to take action in difficult situations. Some researchers even view worrying as a problem-solving activity that can increase or decrease their worrying depending on their confidence level in problem-solving.
Generally speaking we can say that we worry too much about uncertain things and things we can’t solve. The best thing is to try to avoid the negative aspects of life taking charge of the positive because it is in these cases we start suffering from acute to chronic stress.
Why worry if it causes stress? Well worrying reinforces and rewards us. The concern can lead us to solve or deal with our problems in a better way. Most of the time when we worry, nothing bad happens and we worry for no reason. We then learn to attribute worrying to the cause of nothing bad happening. With our concern, we have avoided something bad happening.
Not worrying is frowned upon. If you don’t worry then you don’t seem to care about anything, or aren’t involved or responsible. Society to a certain extent, drives us to worry.
- Worrying makes us feel bad because we think that we are not doing anything to solve the problem.
- It makes us feel good because we think we’re helping to solve it.
In the long run, however, none of these premises work. Excessive worry generates anxiety and blocks us from really doing something to solve the problem constructively.
In addition, most of the time, we worry about uncontrollable things, which we try to control leading us into a loop.
8 ways how to stop worrying:
1. Reduce muscle tension
The first thing we must do is to reduce the muscle tension that causes us to worry. We can perform relaxation techniques, meditation and even yoga. Woodyard explored the effect of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life and discovered that yogic practices enhances muscle strength and improves respiratory and cardiovascular function; which in turn reduces stress, anxiety, depression and worrying. She also discovered that yogic practices can relief chronic pain, improve sleep patterns and enhance overall well-being and quality of life.
2. Be aware of your concerns
Sometimes, it’s hard to tell but our concerns and thoughts are usually followed by negative emotions, anxiety, sadness. Self-inhibition of these negative emotions is thought to lead to poor health and excessive autonomic activation. Mugerwa and Holden studied how writing about your worries, concerns, traumas, etc. can be beneficial. They found that writing on a piece of paper every time you feel bad and expressing on paper the thoughts you had before you felt that way can help you improve your immune system functioning, general health, including symptoms of anxiety and excessive worrying.
3. Avoid getting lost in vague thoughts, concerns or even fears
Try to put in writing everything that lead you to feeling worried. Try asking yourself “what is the worst that could happen?” it usually is not as bad as you imagine. Once we are aware of our concerns and thoughts you can cut through the fore mentioned loop.
4. Now you can look for a distraction or try to think about something else
You can look back and repeat “worrying like this doesn’t help me at all” and try to focus on something else. If focusing on something else is difficult, try to make a list on the things you can do to fix the problem at hand. If after a few minutes no answer comes to mind, then you have proof that it’s not in your power, therefore worrying is really not getting you anywhere.
5. Accept the uncertainty
Life is full of uncertainties, we cannot be 100% sure of what will happen. Sometimes good things happen to us and sometimes not so good. It is part of life and we must live with it. Accept that there are things we can’t control, even if we want to. By accepting that there are situations that escape our control, your mind will relax and stop seeing it as a threat, leading you to worry less.
6. Work out
Working out can help release a lot of inner tensions and to move out those loop thoughts. Choose an active activity that can help you release endorphins and benefit your mind in the process. Researchers have discovered that exercise training sessions of at least 30 minutes significantly reduced anxiety symptoms.
7. Live the present
Worry and fears are set in the future, in something that has not happened, that we cannot control and that takes us away from the present. Mindfulness meditation helps focus on the present moment as well as various positive psychological effects, including reduced psychological symptoms and emotional reactivity. Keep in mind two important things when trying to stay in the present:
- a. Slow down. Even though we live in a fast-paced world, try to slow down. By doing so you will become more aware of what is happening around you.
- b. Interrupt and reconnect. If you feel you are worrying try to yell to your mind STOP and connect with the present. Try to use all your senses to take it all in.
8. Look at difficulties as opportunities for growth and empowerment
Like we mentioned before, life is not meant to be all positive, we all have negative things happen to us. However, since we can’t avoid them or control them, we must make the best out of them. Take the negative aspects or difficulties as growth experiences. Worrying today about something out of your control will eventually happen again at some other point in life, however if we learn that worrying won’t get us anywhere, next time we won’t worry as much as before. Learn to face your fears, and understand that what you fear can happen, but it’s not the end of the world.