Are you alive? If so, then you worry. Do you have a job, kids, friends, possessions? If so, then you worry even more. Worry is an inevitable aspect of living. It is something we like to do as humans.

The idea that people like to worry isn’t so far-fetched. Worry gives you a sense of power, importance, and purpose. When you worry you feel you can influence an outcome. But you can’t. Furthermore, in some ways you are encouraged to worry. You’ll hear others say: “Aren’t you worried about your child, your future, your health…” The list goes on.

To answer that you are not worried gives a sense of disengagement or of being insensitive or uncaring. So you answer in the affirmative. Lastly, a worrier likes the feeling of worry. The familiarity of that worried feeling – like the familiar ground of any habit – offers comfort. However, a worrier would be better off asking if their worries are realistic or if a positive outcome is equally or more likely to occur.

What is worry?

Before describing what worry is, it is useful to explain that it is not the same as stress. Stress is feeling overwhelmed by what is happening at this moment. However, to worry means to concern yourself about the future or something out of your hands. Worry is not anxiety either. Anxiety is a completely negative emotion. It is one step beyond worry.  Worry, in contrast, can be either positive or negative depending on the degree of worry.

To a point, worry can be a motivator. In healthy circumstances, worry leads to action. It can drive us to prepare for something, be it a test, a competition, or any other challenge where there is a chance of success or failure. This is good worry and tends to come irregularly since not every day presents us with win/lose challenges.

But when worry clogs one’s ability to make decisions or clouds the mind with “what ifs,”, then it becomes bad worry. That kind of worry is chronic. It is all-encompassing thus blocking your ability to function well in your daily life. If worry leads to inaction, avoidance, or a focus on worst-case scenarios, that is bad worry because it limits your ability to address a situation or challenge yourself. It’s also bad for your well-being.

How does worry affect us?

Physically, worry triggers a “fight or flight” response in the body. That is a good thing when action is taken, because your brain has released natural chemicals into your body in order to prepare you for the task at hand. However, modern worries that cannot be dealt with physically – bills, rent, relationships, work – leave the body laden with these same chemicals which remain festering in the bloodstream eventually taking their toll on the body. The brain is also affected. Worry disturbs sleep and concentration, appetite, and socializing.

This disturbance of body and mind begins to negatively impact all facets of life. It can leave you tired, confused, improperly nourished and isolated, thereby perpetuating and amplifying the worry cycle. None of this is natural.

How to worry less

The fact is, worry is a learned behaviour. The good news is that because worry is learned it can be unlearned. Those first few moments of worry are the key to addressing it. Once you sense the feeling of worry, counter it with positive thoughts. If that doesn’t work, write the worry down. Like a shopping list or any other list, putting things on paper helps to get them off your mind. While writing your worry down ask yourself if it is something that can be solved. If you can do something about it, begin to take action or make a plan of action. If you can’t do anything about it, train yourself to let it go.

Life is full of uncertainty and it is perfectly normal and natural to worry at times. When your control of worry helps induce action, it is useful, but when worry controls you and results in inaction, it becomes debilitating. The simple truth is that your worry has no influence on outcomes but it has enormous negative influence on you.

 By Dan Franch, January 2014.