9 Steps to End Chronic Worrying
Experts explain how to reduce excessive worrying that can have mental and physical effects.
Do You Worry Too Much?
Worrying doesn't always deserve such a bad rap. Sometimes worry is a good
thing, says Bruce Levin, MD, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in Plymouth
Meeting, Pa. "If there is an actual threat then there is something to worry
about," he says. "If you run into a bear in the woods, you have
something to worry about." In these cases, "not worrying may be
more of a problem than to worry."
So how much worry is too much worry?
"It depends on the degree to which that disproportionate worry affects
you and how much you are suffering and how much it limits you," he says.
"If it's posing interference in your life or is enough of a problem or
nuisance that you are distressed, the good news is there is help."
9 Worry-Busting Steps
No. 1. Make a list of your worries. Identify what you are worried
about, says Leahy.
No. 2. Analyze the list. "Look at whether your worry is
productive or unproductive," Leahy says. A productive worry is one that you
can do something about right now. For example, "I am going to Italy, so I
may be worried about making plane and hotel reservations," he says.
"This is a productive worry because I can take action now by going online
to make reservations."
By contrast, an unproductive worry is one which you can't do anything about.
"It is more of a proliferation of 'what ifs,' over which you have no
control and there is no productive action that will lead to a solution,"
Leahy says. For example, losing sleep and worrying about whether or not you will get cancer is unproductive.
No. 3. Embrace uncertainty. Once you have isolated your unproductive
worries, it's time to identify what you need to accept in order to get over
them, Leahy says. You may need to accept your own limitations or it may be a
degree of uncertainty that you need to accept.
For example, you very well may get cancer some day as no one really knows
what the future holds. "Many worried people equate uncertainty with a bad
outcome, but uncertainty is really neutral," he says. "When you accept
uncertainty, you don't have to worry anymore. Acceptance means noticing that
uncertainty exists and letting go and focusing on the things that you can
control, enjoy, or appreciate."
No. 4. Bore yourself calm. "Repeat a feared thought over and over
and it will become boring and will go away," Leahy says. If your fear is
dying of cancer, look in the mirror and say, "I may die of cancer. I may
die of cancer." Say it enough and it will lose its power.
No 5. Make yourself uncomfortable. "Worriers feel that they can't
tolerate discomfort, but if you practice discomfort, you will accomplish a lot
more," Leahy says. "The goal is to be able to do what you don't want to
do or things that make you uncomfortable."