7 Helpful Ways to Keep Worry from Warping your Happiness

Ever wonder why anxiety and worry are so prevalent in our society? Simply put, worrying is part of being human. From an evolutionary perspective, there is good reason for this.  Back when we were cave people, pessimism and negative thoughts were necessary to our survival.  Ten thousand years ago, we only trusted people in our tribe, worried about what foods could be eaten, and what animals to steer clear of. So, please don’t worry that you worry too much! We are descended from worriers. Those who fretted and ruminated the most were far more likely to survive.  

But, times have changed.  We no longer have to worry about being eaten by predators.  However, that does not mean we should all stop worrying.  Worrying can be helpful when it spurs you to take action and solve problems.  But if you find yourself preoccupied and overwhelmed with “what if’s” and worst-case scenarios, this type of excessive worry can become a problem.  Unrelenting doubts and fears can be paralyzing, zap you of energy, interfere with your daily functioning and negatively impact your physical health.

The good news is that chronic worrying is a mental habit that can be broken.  You can train your brain to stay calmer and look at life from a more positive, realistic perspective. 

So if worrying is normal, how can you tell if your everyday anxiety has crossed the line into a disorder? Here’s a start: If you experience any of the following symptoms on a regular basis, you may have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

Some Symptoms of GAD

●    Worry occurring more days than not for at least 6 months
●    Worrying interferes with your life and cannot be controlled
●    Increased pessimism, decreased confidence
●    Digestive issues and nausea
●    Low-level depression
●    Physical signs like muscle tension, fatigue, feeling on edge, changes to your sleeping and eating patterns, inability to focus or concentrate, irritable bowel syndrom e

How Worrying Can Hurt Us

As the above symptoms grow chronic, the impact of GAD deepens. Over 90 percent of those with GAD present with another psychiatric issue. In addition, one-quarter of people with GAD visit their physicians to discuss psychological concerns. The lingering presence of chronic worrying can result in:

●    Binge eating
●    Sleep problems
●    Excessive drinking
●    Smoking
●    Drug use

Obviously, there’s a lot more to worry than meets the eye. Telling someone to “stay positive” or to just “stop” is not going to help. So then, what can we do?

So here are seven helpful ways to keep worry from warping your happiness:

1. Recognize that you’re not to blame

Please keep in mind:

●    Everybody worries
●    The world can be a very worrisome place

We all have responsibilities. We experience unsettling and challenging life transitions. (To learn more about navigating and effectively coping with transitions, visit my prior blog, 5 Key Reasons to Give Change a Chance). We may have loved ones to care for. What about those bills? World events can sure make you lose sleep. The list goes on (as you know) so please don’t add “I worry that I worry too much” to it. Accept that worrying has become an issue. Address that issue with self-love and self-compassion.

2. Practice assertive communication

Anxious people tend to be passive communicators and spend an inordinate amount of time second-guessing what others may be thinking. Try a new approach the next time you say or do something you regret. Rather than being passive in your communication and stuffing those feelings inside, adopt a more assertive communication style and ask the person how they feel. Find out, on the spot, if they are upset. If so, address it. If not, there’s no need to worry later.

3. Increase attention to self-care

Because the mind, body and spirit are all connected, we function in a healthier manner when we practice self-care. For example:

●    Exercise is stress release. It can also be a “time out” from anxiety.
●    Practicing mindfulness or meditating can help you break free of your worries by bringing your attention back to the present. Being present helps you avoid the future predictions of chronic worry.

4. Challenge anxious thoughts

People who experience chronic anxiety tend to look at the world in ways that make it seem more dangerous than it really is.  Anxious people tend to overestimate the possibility that things will turn out badly and jump immediately to the worst-case scenario.  Additionally, they tend to underestimate their ability to cope should something go wrong.  Start by identifying the frightening thought, and then, instead of viewing your thoughts as facts, treat them as hypotheses you’re testing out.  As you examine and challenge your worries, you will begin to develop a more balanced, 
realistic perspective. 

5. Unplug

Being plugged into our phones, computers, and social media accounts increases the likelihood of chronic worry. Set aside time each day to tune it all out. For example, this time unplugged can coincide with your exercise and/or meditation.

6. Create a designated “worry time”

If you have ever tried to tell yourself to just stop worrying-you already know this does not work-at least for long. You can distract yourself for a moment, but you can’t banish anxious thoughts for good-in fact trying to do so often makes them stronger.  Stated best by the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung-“what you resist will persist.”  A more effective approach, I use often with my anxious clients, is to chose a set time and place for worrying each day. It should be the same time every day, for no more than 30 minutes- and avoid right before bedtime. During your worry time, you are allowed to worry about whatever’s on your mind.  It is also helpful to write your worries down during your worry period.  The rest of the day, however, is a worry-free zone.  If anxious thoughts pop up outside of your worry period (and they likely will), simply make a note of it and continue about your day.  Remind yourself that you will have time to think about it later-during your worry time. 

7. Seek Professional Help

Worry serves an important protective function in all our lives. The idea is to let it serve you rather than make you feel sad, afraid, inadequate, or on edge. What should you do if your emotions feel out of control when you worry?

Therapy works.  Anxiety therapy with a therapist, such as myself, that is trained in anxiety management, is a proven path towards effectively reducing and minimizing chronic worrying. For more information please feel free to email me at naomi@naomiberrycounseling.com or visit my website: naomiberrycounseling.com.