- Worry can cause physical, mental, and emotional fallout.
- Reducing worry helps the body to unwind, creates more mental space, and improves overall well-being.
- With consistent practice of research-based skills, we can quiet the voice of constant worry.
If you’re plagued by constant worry, you know it’s no fun. An unending preoccupation with what could go wrong is exhausting and dispiriting. Chronic worry by definition is hard to stop, but when we’re able to, our life improves in more ways than we might imagine.
1. Less tension. Although worry is a mental event, it has profound effects on the body, creating a steady background hum of muscle tension (especially in the neck and shoulders). Letting go of worry lets the body relax.
2. More energy. The stress of worry constantly activates the fight-flight-freeze response, which wears us out. With less worry, that energy can be put to more productive use.
3. Better sleep. Worry is a notorious interrupter of sleep. Over time, less worry means a more peaceful night’s rest.
4. Less on edge. Worry makes it feel like we’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Reduced worry lets the nervous system unwind, so our alarm system is no longer blaring its warning at us.
5. More mental space. What would you think about if your mind weren’t constantly filled with worry? Often we don’t even know until we’re not worrying all the time.
6. Greater comfort with uncertainty. Worry is defined by difficulty dealing with the unknown. When we’re less worried, we’re better able to tolerate—or even embrace—our uncertain future.
7. Easier decision-making. Worry clouds our minds and judgment so it’s hard to make choices, sometimes even about simple things like what to wear. A clearer mind means clearer thinking and deciding.
8. Improved concentration. Closely related to decision-making is the ability to concentrate, which gets better when worry isn’t continually stealing our attention.
9. Enhanced creativity. Worry locks us into rigid thought processes; less worry makes room for flexibility and creative ways of thinking.
10. Less irritability. It’s hard to be patient and agreeable when you’re tense, distracted, worn out, on edge, rigid, and sleep deprived. Worrying less makes it easier to get along with others.
11. Better relationships. It’s hard for relationships not to improve when we’re doing better in so many important ways. And better relationships mean one thing fewer to worry about.
12. More life enjoyment. The ultimate payoff from worrying less is that life just gets better. Constant worry is a heavy weight; laying it down offers freedom, joy, and a sense of ease.
How to Worry Less
Great, you might be thinking, I’d love to worry less. But how? I know from both clinical and personal experience that it’s not exactly easy. Start with these three steps (adapted from Mindful Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), and practice them religiously.
Step 1. Question the usefulness of worry: We often believe, consciously or not, that it’s somehow better or safer to worry—that it helps us solve problems or prevents bad surprises or shows we care. Challenge these assumptions. Most of the time worry is useless mental wheel spinning.
Step 2. Come to your senses: Feel your feet on the ground or your butt on your chair. See what’s around you. Smell the air, hear the birds, taste your food. Sense the weight of your phone in your hand. Allow your sensory experiences to help you focus on what is actually happening, right now.
Step 3. Accept the possibility of what you fear: Don’t argue with your worries or try to resolve them—it will only reinforce the worry cycle. Instead, accept that what you’re worried about could happen. Yes, I might get sick. Yes, she might leave me. Yes, I could miss my train. Recognize the limits of what you control and open yourself to not knowing what will happen, even when you care deeply about the outcome. In the unlikely event that your worry comes true, you'll handle it with the strength and resolve that have gotten you this far. Worry withers when we stop fueling it with mental energy and resistance.
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Gillihan, S. J. (2022). Mindful cognitive behavioral therapy: A simple path to healing, hope, and peace. HarperOne.