Managing worrying thoughts


Worry and anxiety are common experiences for many people. While some worrying can be normal, excessive worrying thoughts that interfere with daily life may indicate an anxiety disorder. Learning to manage worrying thoughts is an important step in overcoming anxiety. This guide provides evidence-based techniques to take control of anxious thoughts and improve mental health.

Managing worrying thoughts

What are Worrying Thoughts?

Worrying thoughts are repetitive, negative thoughts focused on potential threats or worst-case scenarios. Common topics include:

  • Health and safety of self or others
  • Work or school performance
  • Relationships
  • Finances

These thoughts are usually exaggerated and unrealistic. However, they can seem uncontrollable and lead to intense feelings of fear and anxiety.

Some characteristics of worrying thoughts include:

  • Future-focused - centered on what might go wrong in the future, not the present.
  • Abstract - vague and unclear, not grounded in reality.
  • Repetitive - recurring thoughts that go in circles.
  • Catastrophizing - irrationally expecting the worst possible outcome.

What Causes Excessive Worrying?

Many factors can contribute to chronic worrying and anxiety:

Brain Chemistry

  • Neurotransmitter imbalances - Worrying has been linked to irregularities in serotonin and GABA levels in the brain. These neurotransmitters regulate mood.
  • Hyperactive amygdala - This region of the brain is involved in emotional processing and stimulating the body's stress response. It's often overactive in anxiety disorders.

Thought Patterns

  • Cognitive distortions - Errors in thinking that reinforce negative thoughts, like catastrophizing or black-and-white thinking.
  • Intolerance of uncertainty - Difficulty coping with uncertain situations or unknown outcomes.
  • Poor problem-solving - Lacking skills to resolve issues effectively.

Environmental Factors

  • Stress - Constant high stress often leads to excessive worry and anxiety.
  • Trauma - Distressing events can cause persistent, intrusive worries.
  • Learned behavior - Growing up around others with anxiety can establish worrying as a habitual response.

Health Consequences of Chronic Worry

If worrying becomes unmanageable and develops into an anxiety disorder, it can cause:

  • Physical symptoms - Headaches, muscle tension, insomnia, fatigue, nausea, and more.
  • Mental health problems - Depression, other anxiety disorders, substance abuse.
  • Difficulties functioning - Impaired work/school performance, relationship issues, reduced quality of life.
  • Health conditions - Stress from chronic anxiety can increase risk for conditions like heart disease, digestive issues, and obesity.

Getting excessive worry under control is important for both mental and physical health. The good news is that shifting worrying thought patterns is possible with the right strategies.

How to Stop Worrying Thoughts in Their Tracks

When worrying thoughts start to spiral out of control, there are techniques you can use in-the-moment to manage them:

1. Pause and breathe

Take a break from worrying by focusing your attention on your breathing. Breathe in for a count of 4, hold for 4, then exhale for 4. Repeat several times until you feel calmer.

2. Get grounded

Anxiety often centers on hypothetical future scenarios. Ground yourself in the present by describing your surroundings or listing tangible things you are grateful for.

3. Challenge cognitive distortions

Identify exaggerated or irrational thoughts and counter them with realistic assessments of the situation.

4. Shift your focus

Distract yourself and shift worrying thoughts off your mind by engaging in a new task or activity. Even simple things like listening to music can help.

5. Talk it through

Verbalizing worries out loud to a supportive friend or writing them down can help diffuse their power over you.

With practice, you can use these techniques to notice worrying thoughts when they emerge and manage them before anxiety escalates.

Long-Term Strategies to Overcome Worrying Thoughts

While quick coping techniques are useful in the moment, making lasting changes to worrying thought patterns requires work over time. Some effective long-term strategies include:

Cognitive Restructuring

This involves identifying distorted thinking and consciously reformulating thoughts in a more realistic, helpful way. With practice, you can recognize and dispute worries as they occur.

Mindfulness-Based Practices

Meditation, deep breathing, and yoga help calm the mind, improve focus, and increase awareness of thoughts. This allows you to better manage worrying thoughts instead of getting immersed in them.

Exposure Therapy

Confronting feared situations gradually in a controlled way decreases sensitivity over time. As you face uncertainties and tolerate feared outcomes, anxiety and worrying thoughts decrease.

Problem-Solving Skills

Chronic worriers often have difficulty solving problems effectively. Learning skills like problem definition, brainstorming solutions, and decision making helps better cope with life's uncertainties.

Lifestyle Changes

Exercise, sleep, healthy eating habits, caffeine/alcohol reduction, and stress management all help create a lifestyle less susceptible to excessive worrying.


For some people with severe anxiety, prescribed anti-anxiety medication or antidepressants can be helpful in managing worrying thoughts when combined with therapy.

Implementing regular practice of these strategies can go a long way in learning to tolerate uncertainty, taming anxious thought patterns, and reducing worry over time.

When to Seek Help for Anxiety from Worrying

If you feel like worrying thoughts are taking over your life, consider seeking professional care. Signs that anxiety may require help from a mental health professional include:

  • Worrying most days for at least 6 months
  • Trouble controlling worrying or relaxing
  • Worrying disrupting work, school, relationships, or daily activities
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fatigue, headaches, nausea, muscle tension
  • Irritability, agitation, feeling on edge
  • Panic attacks

A combination of therapy and medication often yields good results in treating anxiety disorders stemming from chronic worry. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps identify and change troublesome thought patterns. Medication can also alleviate symptoms while you work on long-term coping techniques.

Healthy Ways to Manage Worrying Thoughts

Living with excessive worry and anxiety can feel overwhelming. Implementing healthy coping strategies takes commitment, patience, and regular practice. But taking control of your thoughts is possible. With time, the right techniques can help manage worrying and reduce anxiety to take back your mental health.

Here are some key tips for managing worrying thoughts in a healthy way:

  • Observe - Notice when worry starts setting in and identify triggers.
  • Pause - Give yourself permission to take a break from anxious thoughts by shifting your focus elsewhere.
  • Breathe - Slow, deep breathing can instantly relieve tension.
  • Get moving - Physical activity and exercise changes your body's stress response.
  • Talk it out - Give voice to worries by expressing them to someone you trust.
  • Challenge thoughts - Ask yourself if anxieties are realistic or helpful. Look for cognitive distortions.
  • Stay present - Avoid dwelling on hypothetical "what-ifs" by grounding yourself in the here-and-now.
  • Solve problems - Proactively defining issues and making practical plans to resolve them.
  • Seek support - Get help from friends, family, mental health professionals, or support groups.
  • Make lifestyle changes - Prioritize sleep, healthy eating, leisure activities, and managing stress.

With regular practice of strategies like these, you can learn to tolerate uncertainty and take back control from worrying thoughts and anxiety. Have patience and be kind to yourself in the process. Over time, you'll gain new coping abilities to live life fully again.

Managing worrying thoughts. Conclusion

Living with constant worrying thoughts can be extremely challenging. But with an understanding of what causes anxiety, learning in-the-moment techniques, and implementing long-term strategies, it is possible to overcome excessive worry. Arm yourself with knowledge of effective, research-backed methods for calming your mind and responding to anxieties in a healthier way. While it takes commitment and work, taking control of your mental health is a worthwhile pursuit. With the right approach and support, you can find balance again and reduce worrying thoughts to a manageable level.

Resources used to write this article

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