How to Manage Worry


Worrying is what happens when we are concerned about something bad that might happen. Just about everyone worries sometimes. We may be worried about a grade in an important class, about a family member who might be ill or a coming storm. There is no end to the things we might worry about – but worrying can be both good and problematic. How do you know which is which?

Good worry
When faced with real problems or challenges, worrying can move us to take necessary action. If you are worried about an upcoming assignment or exam, you probably know that you can reduce your worry if you do the needed research or studying to prepare. If being worried about an ill family member makes you offer to help them do errands, this worry is helpful. If I am worried about my health as I get older, that might spur me to eat well and get regular exercise. You get the idea. Some worrying about real, meaningful, substantial problems that you can take steps to address can be a good thing.

So when might worrying be a problem?
Let’s consider our examples from above. What if you were so worried about the upcoming test that you could not sleep or concentrate? Or if you were so worried about your relative that you could think about nothing else and as a result forgot to go to school. What if you were so worried about your health that you were terrified of going outside for fear that there may be germs in the air and you might get sick? Or what if you spent your time worrying about the likelihood that the sun will burn out in several billion years’ time? As you can see, some worrying is unhelpful and can lead you into problems.

So, it seems reasonable that if your worrying helps you to anticipate and address problems or challenges in a useful way this is fine, but if the worrying is too intense or disruptive or is out of proportion to the problem (the sun burning out is a big problem but “billions of years” makes this not so meaningful for quite a long time!) then this is unhelpful worrying.

What can you do to manage “problem worrying”?

  • The first part of addressing problem worrying is to learn to notice when you are worrying. This is part of the larger issue of mindfulness – practice paying attention to your thoughts and feelings.
  • Put problems in perspective – If you find yourself worrying a lot about something, stop and ask yourself, is this a real problem? How serious is it?
  • Take action to address the problem – consider what steps you can actually take to limit or solve the problem.
  • Get support – if practical, get input from family, friends or advisers to evaluate the problem and how to fix it.
  • Take a break – if you feel you are getting caught in a loop of worrying that is not productive, do something to distract yourself for a while. Go jogging, watch a funny video, talk to a friend and then see if you can go back and address the problem.
  • Get help – if you find yourself consistently caught up in worrying and none of these strategies are helping, this might mean you are dealing with an anxiety problem. Seeing a counselor can help you to deal with your worrying.

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