Strategies to Stop Worrying
There is an upside to all this angst, however. Think about it: Without a certain amount of hand-wringing about your health, would you really make your annual appointment for a mammogram, or go to the gym, or wear a seat belt? "Good worry is like a smoke detector that nature has built into our brains," explains psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell, MD, author of Worry: Hope and Help for a Common Condition. "It alerts us to danger. It also helps you solve problems." If you're worried about bouncing checks, you'll be more likely to set up a cash reserve.
We're actually wired for "good worry" thanks to a part of the brain called the anterior insula, which helps us predict, and thus avoid, danger. So, when you're about to buy an entire case of warehouse-store cookies because they're on sale and that little voice inside your head says, Don't do it, you'll just eat them all, it's probably a good idea to listen.
But while good worry has its benefits, fretting over future problems -- your husband's car might crash, your child might get seriously ill -- is most often a complete waste of energy. Eighty-five percent of the time people's worst fears never materialize, according to a study published in Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy.
Meanwhile, no one needs to tell nervous Nellies like me that anxiety can be incredibly destructive. Common among worriers: restlessness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension, high blood pressure, stomach problems, rashes, heart disease, headaches, and insomnia. "It takes practice and patience to change worry patterns," points out psychologist Robert Leahy, PhD, author of The Worry Cure. "But it ultimately boils down to readjusting how you think about the world, and believing that tomorrow is more likely to bring you something wonderful than something frightening." How to put worry behind you? Don't angst over it! If one strategy doesn't work, simply try another.