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4 Questions to Curb Worry

Discover how to stop worrying by asking yourself these simple questions.

Sun setting over a tranquil river with dark clouds in the sky.

Medically reviewed in February 2020

Updated on February 1, 2021

“Worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere" - Erma Bombeck 

Stress and worry have become part of everyday life. Over 40 million American adults have an anxiety disorder and women are 60 percent more likely than men to develop done over their lifetime, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Millions more struggle with day-to-day worries that don’t qualify as anxiety disorders but are still troublesome. So, is it possible to learn how to stop worrying? Here’s what you need to know. 

Worry vs. anxiety: What’s the difference? 
While worry is primarily a mental activity in which we think about our problems or fears, anxiety is more of an emotional response to a feared event, and feelings of doubt about our ability to cope. In contrast, anxiety becomes a mental health disorder when it is chronic and impacts your ability to function in daily life. Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and specific phobias. 

How does worrying affect the body? 
Stress responses like worry and anxiety are helpful warning signals that help prepare us to take action. According to stress researcher Robert Sapolsky, PhD, an animal’s stress response helps it survive a short-term physical attack by maximizing its physical body for flight or fight.  

Human beings turn on the same stress response for purely psychological reasons, however, and we often do not know how to turn off our response. Sapolsky says that ultimately our response becomes more damaging to our health and well-being than the stressor itself. 

Four questions to ask yourself 

  1. Whose problem is it? It’s common to worry about things that aren’t even your problem. If you are fretting about someone else’s future or choices, you are causing yourself unnecessary stress. 
  2. What are things I can do about it? Write down a list of potential responses to the situation you are worried about. Worrying without taking action wastes mental and emotional energy and doesn’t change anything. 
  3. How can I prepare to deal with this potential event? Do something to ready yourself for a worst-case scenario. Preparation is a more productive use of your time and energy than worrying. 
  4. What is one thing I can do today? Worry can cloud our view of changing the things we can control. Choose one thing that you can commit to doing today to address your worry.

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