If you’re anything like me, you’re likely someone who tends to worry over anything and everything. In my personal experience, it’s almost become a talent in itself.
Possible worst-case scenarios like forgetting my tickets to a long-awaited event, even when I clearly remember printing them out and packing them in my bag before heading out the door. Stuff like the café barista possibly finding me rude because I accidentally ordered my drink in a blunt tone, even when I didn’t mean anything by it; it’s just that it’s 8 in the morning and I haven’t exactly inched out of my “morning” voice.
And of course, there’s the deeper issues like wondering where my career’s going to take me, if I’m ever going to make optimum use of that 4-year Media degree I’ve slaved over, or if this freelancing gig was the smartest choice to make over keeping my stable 9-5 job. Name a situation or a relevant concern – no matter how small – and I guarantee I can find something to fuss about ‘till my wits end, at least 80% of the time.
It’s an incredibly easy thing to fall into a “worry pit”, where you start zeroing in on all the tiny, unimportant details until they start sprouting tiny, unnecessary concerns of their own. Your initial worries then shift down this deeper “level” of worriment, and soon enough you’ll find yourself on a downwards spiral of stress and anxiety.
But if it’s such a miserable habit altogether, why do so many of us fall victim to this cycle of worry?
To sum it up quickly – it’s because it actually makes our brains feel good. Chew on that for moment; worrying, as weird as it sounds, is actually like junk food for the brain. Gotta thank the fantastic blogger Nick Wignall for this clever analogy.
The act of worrying helps alleviate that feeling of helplessness in certain situations by causing our brains to try and find solutions to perceived problems. It gives us that temporary relief of feeling like we’re laying our concerns to rest, when in reality, we’re only resuscitating them with each paranoid thought.
In the end, we’re left feeling more exhausted and frustrated than we were before. What’s even worse, however, is that the act of worrying has actually been clinically proven to bring detrimental effects on your health.
While it can get addictive to overthink every little issue or concern that comes our way – it’s important to remember that we definitely aren’t doing our mental and physical wellbeing any favours in the long run. Being a worry-wart can bring some real damaging consequences, namely in these 4 different ways:
It can put you at risk of all sorts of diseases.
This aftereffect is probably the scariest of them all, seeing as being a chronic over-worrier can actually put you more at risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, depression, and diabetes.
Once you’ve gotten those physical ailments in mind, suddenly worrying doesn’t seem like such a “relieving” practice.
Subjecting yourself to intense periods of worrying can cause high levels of stress in your body. As a result, your blood pressure and heart rate elevates as your try to keep up with your racing thoughts. If such effects are persistently induced, you’re raising your risk of cardiovascular disease; one of the leading causes of death in developed countries.
Staying in a constant state of stress can also lead to changes in your blood chemistry, and this is where the higher risk of diabetes comes in. These changes in chemistry are also associated with a greater likelihood of clinical depression, and a depressed immune system make it harder for your body to fight off aggressive diseases – including cancer.
It doesn’t stop there, though. Chronic stress and worrying can hinder the formation of fast-growing cells, like the ones found in your bones or your hair. This persistent state of mind can also hamper your ability to form and preserve memories, and can even depress fertility.
None of these sound too pretty, but it’s an important thing to note before you start rueing over every little detail of what went down during the day. Form enough of a worry habit and you can actually cause great disruption to your body’s processes, in some ways more alarming than others.
Goodbye, beauty sleep
Once the paranoia mode’s activated, it can ultimately be hard to stop. Indulging your inner worry junkie invites these thoughts to linger throughout your day, enabling them to follow you through to your precious bedtime.
We’ve all been there: tossing and turning as we replay the day’s events, wondering if we looked stupid during that business presentation, whether that certain person’s going to text us back, or perhaps even the deeper, existential issues of where we’re headed in life.
The overwhelm of racing thoughts keep a constant surge of activity in our brains, which evidently keep us from getting any sleep. As a result, we wake up hours later in a zombified state, grumpy and bitter and devoid of a night’s rest.
It’s a relatively harmless incident every now and again – after all, we can’t escape the unexpected bad day on occasion – but when done repeatedly, a constant lack of sleep can set your brain down on a path of heightened anxiety and actual sleep disorders.
Sleep and anxiety concerningly forms a synergetic relationship when tolerating these unhealthy practices. Anxiety has been clinically proven to cause sleeping problems, leading to consistent sleep deprivation, which leads to even worse anxiety. Medical evidence has shown that almost all psychiatric disorders display some form of sleep disruption, these including bipolar disorder, ADHD, and depression. At the same time, these mental concerns don’t help in getting an adequate amount of sleep – and so the cycle continues on.
In conclusion; worrying your nights away won’t fix things – if anything, it’ll just make everything worse. Once in bed, it’s best to keep those intrusive thoughts at bay.
Hello, muscle tension
As mentioned in my first point, a serious over-worrier can likely find themselves at greater risk of developing all sorts of physical diseases. Muscle tension is an incredibly common one among the lot, thus deserving its own point on the list.
More often than not, you’ll find that those who experience frequent feelings of fear, worry, and stress are also prone to persisting feelings of muscle tension and tightness.
Science explains that when the body finds itself in a state of anxiety, a number of chemical changes take place that cause our bodies to tense up, thus causing muscle tension, muscle spasm, and pain in the back, shoulders, and neck. The greater the stress response, the tighter the muscles will likely become – and when experienced frequently enough, can eventually lead to chronic strain and stiffness.
These muscles will also be more susceptible to tightening in stressful situations, furthering damaging themselves and leaving the individual more prone to existing physical weaknesses.
While the neck, shoulders, and back are often the most common targets, such strain can take place anywhere in the body, and will only get worse if we let our worries fester.
It can damage your skin and hair
On a bit of a lighter (yet still concerning) point – letting yourself get swept away by worry isn’t going to do your appearance any favours, either. This is especially impacting for the vainer ones among us, particularly those who are selfie-taking, Instagramming enthusiasts. If you value your looks, persistent over-worrying is bound to do damage to the physical traits you hold so dear.
Let’s start with your face – when placed in a constant state of stress, your body releases cortisol that triggers skin breakouts and acne. If you’re prone to consistently make disgruntled facial expressions, you can also potentially form fine lines throughout your face over time. Oh, and if you’re predisposed to skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis – prepare to invite those delightful issues back in your life, ‘cause they thrive on this stuff. Stress can also cause an imbalance of bacteria in your gut (causing the good bacteria to outweigh the bad), which can lead you to break out in rashes or hives.
You’re possibly putting your precious mane at stake here, too. Prolonged stress can accelerate the cycle of life of each hair strand, speeding them through the growing, resting, and falling-out phase much quicker. There’s also a condition known as “telogen effluvium”, which describes a significant drop in the number of growing hair follicles. Doctors have a noted a link between this issue and chronic stress, speculating that when your body is constantly perceiving anxiety as a threat, it may begin viewing hair growth as a less of a priority and spend less energy on the process.
If you’re predisposed to gray hair, anxiety also causes the melanin in your hair to stop producing, having you welcome a whole lot more of ‘em.
It’s depressing to have to run through each of these gruelling side effects of worry – I mean, we’ve got enough to stress over as it is; and now we’ve got a whole bunch of medical conditions to pile on top of that?!
Luckily, each of these issues are preventable. If over-worrying is a routine part of your day, then it may take a bit of work and discipline, but getting rid of these nagging cycles of thought (or at least minimising them) is absolutely doable.
Below are four effective plans of action you can implement to ward off those pesky worry demons.
Learn to rationalise your thoughts.
Whilst the act of over-worrying can lead to more problems than not, there is, in fact, such as thing as healthy worry. It is this type of worrying that forces us to confront the current issues in our lives; that drives us to act to resolve them. This healthy worry also gets us to consider the consequences of our immediate actions, stopping us from eating that 7th Krispy Kreme donut, from talking smack about our co-workers on Facebook, and from buying a $100 Apple Watch from a shady-ass seller on GumTree.
Worrying over the immediately solvable concerns we have – it’s normal. It’s a way for us to become better planners, to deal with our existing problems more effectively. But for the worry-warts among us, we tend to not only rue over our immediate issues – but the circumstances beyond our control, too.
This is where you’ve got to differentiate between a “productive, solvable” worry, and one that’s vague, exaggerated, or sometimes even downright fictitious.
For example, worrying over performing at a job interview the next day is totally fine; totally normal. In fact, a few nervous jitters here and there can even motivate you to put your best foot forward.
But getting paranoid over how the interviewer may turn out unfriendly or intimidating, if they’d judge you for your choice in clothing, your heels possibly breaking on the way, getting stuck in the elevator - the list can go on and on; these are all worries that are merely hypothetical in nature, just worst-case scenarios you’ve completely made up in your head. You can take control over how prepared you’ll be for this interview, but you can’t predict or regulate how everything else will turn out, so why waste your precious energy?
When you start feeling overwhelmed with persisting anxious thoughts, train yourself to filter out the actionable worries from the hypotheticals. If it’s a worry that you can act on and fix right away – get to work on solving that problem to cut yourself some slack.
If it’s something out of your control; a worry you’ve invented that hasn’t happened yet – no amount of overthinking’s going to give you the power to change these uncertain outcomes, so learn to let them go.
Work out or meditate.
Yeah, yeah. Cliched advice, I know – but that’s because these activities have been scientifically proven to give real, psychological (and physical) benefit. There’s a reason why some of the most successful people in the world advocate for either or both practices, and it’s not just to get on their high horses.
Time and time again, research has shown exercise to be one of the most effective ways of beating anxiety and stress, as it’s a way to get out of your head for a moment and focus, instead, on your body movement, muscle tension, and rhythmic breathing. It’s also shown to release a whole lot of serotonin in the brain, or what’s been termed as the “happy” brain chemical; and endorphins, hormones that produce positive feelings all around and significantly reduce feelings of anxiety.
Studies have even found that aerobic exercise works just as well as medication in warding off diseases and enhancing mental health.
In a similar vein, meditation promotes a state of mindfulness that trains you to switch off the vague, overwhelming concerns you may have about the future (or past), to instead focus on the events of the present. Shifting your energy towards current circumstances allows you to grab a hold of the here and now, rather than what could have been or what could be.
Let it out.
This tactic’s my favourite one, since confiding in others is a pretty therapeutic thing for me. Allowing yourself to free those worries out into the open by talking to someone you can trust can really help put your thoughts into perspective.
By voicing your anxieties out loud, you may come to realise how ridiculous your paranoia was to begin with. Or perhaps the person you’re talking to will help do this for you, by giving you a good old objective dose of reality. Maybe you’ll find solutions to your problems, as you work through your worries out loud – or the other person can offer up practical solutions of their own.
Letting your worries out to someone can not only help you see your needless anxieties for what they are, but you’ll also be getting the emotional support of a close friend or family member, which feels good in itself too.
And hey – if no one’s around to be your soundboard, writing your stresses out on paper or typing them out in a document or blog does the trick just as well. Either way, it’s just technique of
“emptying” the fears out of your head, allowing you to calm down, reassess your situation, and find the clarity you need.
Lastly, if you really need to – give yourself a limited or designated time to worry.
These techniques are great for suppressing all our unnecessary anxious thoughts, but there will unfortunately still be times where we can’t help but indulge them. When you absolutely feel the need to worry, try setting aside a specific time for yourself – usually a 20-30 minute session– to worry over anything and everything to your heart’s content. Any anxious thought that appears outside of that designated session should be put to the side, until the proper time comes.
This trains your brain to take control of your anxieties. It also allows you to curb these needless thoughts away from the more important activities throughout your day, like school, work, or personal responsibilities – which additionally trains your mind to not give in to worry immediately.
On top of that, you’ll learn to start coming up with solutions to your worries much faster, given that you only have a limited amount of time to dwell on them.
A little pro-tip with this technique is to write down all the worries you have during your “worry period”. Practice this tactic long enough, and soon you’ll be able to go back and reflect on any patterns or recurring worries in your routine. This data should tell what persisting concerns you should start addressing; if they’re solvable, take action and put them to rest.
Worries are basically pesky little monsters that only grow bigger when you feed them. Some are easier to slay; others are elusive and harder to tackle. While they sometimes do good at keeping us on our toes – other times, they succeed at eating away at us, mentally and physically. The thing about worries is that they’re always going to pop up at some point or another, and it all comes down to how well we take control of them. Otherwise, they’ll pretty much eat us alive.
I want to make it clear that I’ve never been clinically diagnosed with anxiety, so I’m not trying to get up on a pedestal and speak on behalf of those who are. But like many, I know what it’s like to overthink; to get nervous over the pettiest of things; to have absolutely irrational fears that, looking back, were pretty embarrassing to have. Uncertainty has never been a thing I’ve fully embraced, and that’s paved the way for a ton of insistent “what ifs”?
Thing is, it’s the “what ifs” that make each day, each event, and each opportunity an exciting ride. It’s important to feel comfortable with not ever being able to have everything figured out. That’s life. Otherwise, how boring (and mentally tiring) would each and every day be?