How to Stop Worrying When You Have Anxiety

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It’s normal to worry from time to time. Given life’s many unknowns and challenges, worry could be considered a very natural response to many situations.

Chronic and all-consuming worry, though, can be troublesome and interfere with our ability to function freely and calmly in our daily lives. More importantly, it can make recovery more difficult.

In 1967, researchers Liebert and Morris suggested that anxiety has two main dimensions:

  • Worry, which covers the ruminating or repetitive thoughts that are generally focused on potential failure or some other type of negative result
  • Emotionality, which refers to the excessive physiological arousal, such as sweating, heart racing, etc., that accompany states of anxiety.

Other researchers have studied this two-dimensional model of anxiety and generally concur with the findings of Liebert and Morris, so it’s safe to say that worry is a main component of anxiety.

Worry and Fear

Worry can be normal and even beneficial in certain circumstances. If you’re worried about taking an upcoming exam, you may feel a sense of anxiety. Hopefully, this type of worry will motivate you to study harder. On the other hand, chronic worry tends to do the opposite, keeping you from doing what you need to do.

Worry becomes a problem when it is chronic, consuming, and leads to anxious avoidance and inhibition.

In other words, worry becomes fear. It distracts you from important matters, and it can inhibit action or problem-solving. Using the above example, let's say you're worried that you won't do well on an upcoming exam.

Instead of the exam motivating you to study harder, though, your worry consumes your mind, you can't concentrate on the task at hand and you are unable to prepare properly for the test. Your fear of failure now becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Are Your Worrisome Thoughts a Problem?

You may have a problem with worry if you:

  • Consistently worry about future failures, dangers, or other types of negative outcomes
  • Ruminate, or repeat in your mind, the same worry or worries
  • Try to stop worrying by anxious avoidance of certain situations
  • Become paralyzed with worry and are unable to focus on, or implement, constructive solutions to your problems.

How to Reduce Worrying

There are some strategies that you can use to help reduce worrying. These include:

  • Figure out what you are worried about. Sometimes you might feel a general sense of anxiety that doesn't seem to have a particular cause. Work on identifying what it is that is triggering your worry so that you have something to focus on.
  • Set aside "worry time" to think about a problem. This can help restrict the amount of time you think about a problem so you aren't worried about it all day long. 
  • Only think about the problem during this designated "worry time." If you find yourself stressing about it during other parts of the day, look for ways to redirect your attention or distract yourself.
  • Use your worry time to think of solutions. Rather than just ruminating over a problem, be active and think of things that you can do that will make the situation better.
  • Focus on what you can control. Even if you cannot completely fix the problem, think of things that you can do to improve the situation. This can help you feel a greater sense of control.
  • Watch your media consumption. If seeing news coverage of an event is amping up your worry, cut back on the amount of news or social media you view each day.

You might also find that relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditating, or practicing mindfulness may also be helpful for managing worry. 

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  1. Liebert RM, Morris LW. Cognitive and emotional components of test anxiety: A distinction and some initial dataPsychological Reports, 1967;20(3-1):975–978. doi:10.2466/pr0.1967.20.3.975

  2. Newman MG, Llera SJ. A novel theory of experiential avoidance in generalized anxiety disorder: a review and synthesis of research supporting a contrast avoidance model of worryClin Psychol Rev. 2011;31(3):371-382. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2011.01.008