How to Worry Smarter
Disponible en Español |
Worry, some say, is like rocking in a rocking chair. You move a lot, but you go nowhere. Yet, who doesn’t worry? It’s only human for us to consider the varied outcomes of a given situation — and to sometimes dwell on the worst part.
“We all worry,” says Anthony Castro, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist with the University of Miami Health System. “It’s like any other emotion. It’s part of our lives.”
If we didn’t worry, we might miss actual dangers and hazards. In fact, Dr. Castro adds, worry “triggers our thinking and leads us to analyze. In many respects, it’s good for us.”
We worry because, as rational beings, we think something bad can — or will — happen, and we want to do something to prevent it. In some ways, fretting, quietly or aloud, gives us a sense of control. When we worry, we tend to play out different scenarios, and that line of thinking can present us with ways to problem solve.
“It lets us examine a particular area more thoroughly and then helps us come up with solutions and ways to implement them.”
Some areas of our life are prime for worrying: money, work, relationship, and children.
“Realistically, there are always reasons to worry,” he says. “That’s our alert system to help us prepare.”
Worrying thoughts can be a double-edged sword. It turns harmful when we do it too much and for too long without moving forward to find solutions to the problem that concerns us. Excessive worrying can affect our physical and mental health. When it takes over our lives, when it regularly robs us of sleep and relationships, worry has developed into anxiety.
Chronic, exaggerated negative thoughts saps our joy and our energy, but it also leads to physical symptoms like gastrointestinal problems, insomnia, headaches, difficulty concentrating and an overall malaise that leaves us restless and at loose ends.
People can get stuck. They worry but don’t analyze. They don’t go on to figure out solutions.Dr. Castro
Though anxiety disorders are relatively common — more than 3 million cases a year in the U.S. alone — most of us can learn to control our worry.
In other words, we can use some tried-and-true techniques to worry better.
Here are Dr. Castro’s suggestions:
- Accept worry. “I don’t recommend the idea that you don’t worry,” Dr. Castro says. “It’s unrealistic. The idea is not to overreact to worry and to move on to working out solutions.”
- Narrow down what you’re worried about. Writing it out helps to focus energy and effort on specifics.
- Limit your worry time. Give yourself a set time (and place) to entertain your worry, and then stop. Go on with your daily tasks.
- Don’t jump immediately into trying to find a solution. Ask yourself: Does this situation really require a response? If so, how quickly should I respond?“Sometimes it’s best to wait. Sometimes the situation resolves itself, and you don’t have to do anything,” Dr. Castro says.
- Jot down potential solutions for the troublesome situation. Sometimes seeing “fixes” in black and white helps you understand that any given outcome may not be as a bad as you think it is. It also helps differentiate between what is probable and what is possible.
- Recognize uncertainty as part of life. No one leads a stressless, worry-free existence. Those carefree friends? Most likely, they grew up in a family that modeled such behavior, or they learned how to deal with worry in a positive way.
- Distract yourself with something you enjoy — but know that this only helps in the moment. “Once the distraction is over,” Dr. Castro points out, “the worry can come back.” Distraction works as a temporary respite, but it’s not permanent.
- Seek help when worrying interferes with your daily life. A therapeutic setting provides a safe space for chronic worriers to understand the what and why of their worries. Therapy can also help an individual design solutions to a specific situation and develop coping skills to deal with future concerns.
Ana Veciana-Suarez is a regular contributor to the University of Miami Health System. She is a renowned journalist and author who has worked at The Miami Herald, The Miami News, and The Palm Beach Post. Visit her website at anavecianasuarez.com or follow @AnaVeciana on Twitter.