Edward Hallowell Articles

Five Strategies to Reduce Excessive Worry

Monday, February 4th, 2013

Given natural disasters, school violence, unemployment, deployment, the fiscal cliff, the flu, erratic weather patterns and tax changes, there are plenty of things to worry about. Everyone worries. The question is how much?

Worry is the negative thinking we do when we are faced with a real or anticipated threat. It is the “ thinking” component of the physical heart racing, shallow breathing and sweaty palms that make up anxiety. “ What if I lose my job?”  “ What if we are hit with another storm? What if something happens to my child?”

Whereas a certain degree of worry may prompt us to plan ahead, ask for help, or change behavior patterns, experts tell us that excessive worry is toxic.

What Causes Excessive Worry

The common misconception that fuels excessive worry is the belief that worry actually accomplishes something positive:

“ I want to be ready when the other shoe drops.”

The Impact of Excessive Worry

  • In reality, excessive worry is not only ineffective as a strategy; but often sets in motion a vicious cycle of paralysis, poor problem solving and fear of coping which in turn escalates more worry.
  • Physically, excessive worry is costly. It trips the release of stress hormones, disrupts sleeping and eating patterns and often compromises the immune system.
  • Overall, spending time ” anticipating the worst” debilitates rather than prepares us for what may or may not happen.

Five Ways to Reduce Toxic Worry

Worry need not become a toxic cycle that takes more than it gives. Here are six strategies that wind down toxic worry:

Reconsider and Refocus

Are you worrying about “ What if” or “What is?” Most excessive worry is about  ‘What if’ – something that we have no proof will ever happen. Keeping you focus and energy on addressing ‘what is’ is not only more realistic but more likely to positively impact your life.

From Thought to Action

As a rule of thumb, if we are acting out too much, it makes sense to start thinking and if we are thinking too much, it makes sense to start acting.

Accordingly, another valuable strategy for reducing worry is to move from thought to action. No …


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Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP & Dianne Kane, DSW are the authors of Healing Together: A Couple's Guide to Coping with Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress. Pick up the book today!

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