Managing Worry


Even though they’re usually unpleasant, worry and anxiety are important emotions. They evolved to help us respond to threats. These emotions direct our attention towards things that could potentially harm us. They also marshal our energy to help us deal with the situation. These feelings were probably critical for helping our ancestors survive.

Unfortunately, in our modern world, this evolved anxiety response isn’t always helpful. Our “fight-or-flight” instinct doesn’t always help us deal with stress. Some of us worry a lot, even when there is no real threat to us. These feelings can be intense, and even harmful to our health. 

Worry can also harm our social and professional lives. This happens when worry leads us to avoid situations that might cause anxiety. While avoidance may help us calm down in the short term, over time, it makes it harder to face the cause of our worry. In turn, that makes the problem even worse.

Signs of worry

Of course, it is normal to feel stressed or worried on occasion. But it can start to become problematic when we have trouble controlling our worry. 

Worry and anxiety can lead to many different symptoms. These include:

  • Trouble relaxing or sleeping 
  • Fatigue
  • Sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shaking and trembling
  • Stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting
  • Headaches 
  • Tension in the body
  • Being unable to stop or control worry

Some people also experience panic attacks. These episodes can lead to symptoms like chest pain and a racing heartbeat. During a panic attack, you might feel “out of control.” You might also have a sense of impending doom, like something terrible is about to happen. 

If you’re in immediate danger or need urgent help, call 911. You can also talk to a trained crisis responder.

Steps towards wellness

  1. Learn about thought distortions
    • Sometimes, we get caught up in worries or fears that aren’t grounded in reality. Learning to recognize that can help you free yourself from unhelpful thoughts.
  2. Make time for mindfulness
    • A quick, 5-minute mindfulness practice can help you calm down and manage worry.
  3. Make exercise part of your routine
    • Even just going for a walk can go a long way to help you return to a calm state of mind.
  4. Talk with a mental health professional

Supporting someone with worry

When somebody you care about is experiencing worry or anxiety, they may see things very differently than you do. For example, they might want to avoid certain situations. You may also feel like they’re “overreacting” when something goes wrong. 

These experiences can be frustrating. But it’s important to remember that they are not doing this on purpose. They are not trying to be “difficult.” They are responding to a threat that feels very real to them. In these situations, the best thing you can do to support them is to be patient and compassionate. 

It is tempting to respond to other people’s worries. You likely want to reassure them that their anxieties are unfounded. Unfortunately, this approach can also backfire. It can reinforce a pattern of seeking reassurance in order to deal with worries. In most cases, it is more useful to help the person take their thoughts off of whatever is causing their anxiety. As you do this, remain compassionate and understanding.