Are you a “worst-case scenario” type of thinker and chronic worrier? Can’t help fixating on what could go wrong in daily life? Do you stay up late worrying about, you know... everything? A little worry in life is normal, even healthy, but for some people, it can be a constant battle to get out of their heads and focus on the present.
If this type of rumination sounds like you, read on: we’ve compiled our top five tips to ease a whirling mind and worrisome thoughts. Plus, we’ve got some advice for what to do when your excessive worrying becomes, well... something to worry about.
We’ve rounded up five evidence-backed tips and coping strategies that will benefit all worriers, regardless of what’s causing their worrying thoughts.
If your worries and negative thought patterns feel inescapable, it may be time to switch up your routine. Carve out some time for yourself to do something that you know relaxes you, like walking, doing yoga or another form of physical activity, getting fresh air, or taking a bath. Doing activities you enjoy releases endorphins, working to combat feelings of stress and worry.
Worried you’ll take your worries with you? Use your relaxation break as an opportunity
to practice mindfulness—a time-tested technique that encourages attention and acceptance and can help ease stress and anxiety, supporting your overall wellness.
Here’s how to do it: bring your attention to the present moment. Focus on your breath, your thoughts, and any physical sensations you might be experiencing. It’s natural to want to shut off any anxious thoughts or uncomfortable sensations you might feel, but instead of preventing thoughts, let them flow freely and simply observe them without judgment.
Over time, mindfulness, and mindfulness meditation, can help you create distance from your worries, so you are less emotionally affected by them.
Journaling is a popular way to manage, and let go of, worrying and negative thoughts. There are many ways to do it, but if you’re brand-new to journaling, a good place to start is simply by writing down your worries. Yes, all of them! Confronting your anxious thoughts in this way may feel intimidating, but putting your worries on paper can allow you to break the worry cycle and leave them behind when you’re done writing.
Plus, having a designated “worry time” to focus exclusively on your fears and concerns might bring some relief by itself. You may notice that the things you’re most worried about are what could happen, not what is happening.
If listing your worries isn’t enough to help you unburden yourself, you can take it a step
further. When you’re finished, consider your list of worries while asking yourself critical questions, like:
Considering these questions can help you re-evaluate your worries, which could diminish their power.
For some people, constant worrying and negative thinking can be made worse by certain triggers. You can learn your own triggers by noticing the scenarios that regularly trigger your worry habit or tend to spike panic attacks.
You may find that scrolling social media at night always leaves you feeling worried, or talking to a particularly negative coworker leaves you gloomy or upset. (Committing to a regular journaling practice may make it even easier for you to identify your triggers and find stress relief.)
Once you’ve learned the things that trigger your anxiety, you can make proactive decisions to avoid or amend these triggers—say, a “no phones before bed” rule or setting boundaries with your coworker —and thus control your stress response. And if you’re worried that your willpower may not be strong enough for these kinds of changes, consider adding tools that may help with your stress management.
For example, apps that regulate screen time can effectively help you implement boundaries with mindless scrolling, contributing to stress reduction.
Worrying can activate your sympathetic nervous system—the network of nerves that triggers your “fight or flight” response. Back when our ancestors were regularly fighting tigers, “fight or flight” was a useful way to help them stay alive. Think: rapid breathing, sweating, slowed-down digestion: all things that make you better at escaping dangerous situations, but aren’t quite as helpful when preparing for a big meeting with your boss.
The good news is that there’s a simple way to turn on your parasympathetic nervous system—the network of nerves that helps us calm down and relax after a period of stress. That hack? Controlling your breath. If you regularly find yourself suffering from the physical symptoms of worrying, like a pounding heart, high blood pressure, or rapid breathing, try some of the following proven deep breathing techniques.
This breathing exercise sounds like a fancy term, but it really just means breathing from your belly rather than your chest. Belly breathing can help you take deeper, fuller breaths during stressful situations.
This breathing technique is widely used in therapeutic settings, but has its roots in pranayama, a breath-focused yogic technique.
Pursed lip breathing
This is one of the most effective ways to combat shortness of breath due to anxiety.
With any of these breathing techniques, always take a break or sit down if you feel lightheaded.
Bonus: if you find that breathing techniques are helpful for you, you may also benefit from progressive muscle relaxation, or PMR, a relaxation technique that can reduce feelings of anxiety by easing your muscle groups into a relaxed state. PMR involves systematically tensing, then relaxing groups of muscles to help release any muscle tension your worry may be causing.
Research has shown that consuming caffeine can increase stress in those who are prone to worry. Similarly, researchers are studying the connection between alcohol consumption and anxiety. Many experts believe that removing or limiting both of these substances in your diet can help maximize your mental well-being in addition to calming techniques.
Experts also believe that maximizing hydration and eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can benefit both your mental and physical health. For example, this type of diet helps balance blood sugar, which can minimize jittery feelings and encourage calmness.
If you're a worrier, it’s worth trying out each of these techniques to see what works best for you. However, you may discover they’re not enough on their own—and that’s OK. If journaling and cutting coffee aren’t, well, cutting it? That may be a sign that your worry is caused by an anxiety disorder or other mental health condition.
Unlike worry, anxiety is (or is a symptom of) a diagnosable medical condition. Many different mental health conditions can cause anxiety or are characterized by anxiety, including:
If one of these, or a related mental health condition, is causing your anxiety, the symptoms will be severe enough to affect your everyday life, including your work and relationships.
These anxiety symptoms might include:
Only a doctor can diagnose an anxiety or related mental health condition. If you’re concerned that your chronic worrying might be caused by an anxiety disorder, it’s time to see a psychiatrist.
The first step to treating any anxiety disorder is getting a clinical diagnosis from a qualified mental healthcare professional, like a psychiatrist. Treatment works, and professional help can make a huge difference in your symptoms and quality of life.
Most people with anxiety disorders will benefit from a combination of medication and talk therapy, including techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that can help reframe your thinking. At Talkiatry, our psychiatrists work with therapists to ensure you have all the tools you need to manage your symptoms and get back to living your life.
With Talkiatry, you can see a psychiatrist from the comfort of your home, and you can schedule your first appointment in a matter of days. To get started, take our free online assessment, to see if Talkiatry is right for you and get matched with a psychiatrist.
Talkiatry is a national psychiatry practice that provides in-network, virtual care. Co-founded by a patient and a triple-board-certified psychiatrist, Talkiatry has over 300 doctors, 60 insurance partners, and first visits available in days. We treat patients with anxiety, depression, trauma, ADHD, and more. Get started with a short online assessment.
The information in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.
Dr. Mendez-Maldonado is double board-certified in general psychiatry and geriatric psychiatry. She received her medical degree from the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine. She then moved to New York to complete her residency training At Mount Sinai Beth Israel where she stayed to complete her fellowship in geriatric psychiatry. After her fellowship, she proceeded to work at Woodhull Hospital where she worked as an attending before becoming unit chief and running their Special Pathogens Unit during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She focuses on medication management and offers this in conjunction with supportive therapy, cognitive-behavioral techniques, a focus on nutritional psychiatry, and 30-minute follow-up visits.
Dr. Mendez-Maldonado focuses on integrating nutrition, physical activity, and mindfulness techniques alongside pharmacotherapy to achieve a well-rounded approach to mental health.