Your Path to Overcoming Chronic Worry

Written by on January 15, 2020 in Accountability, Self-Care

Let’s just admit it, we all worry. It’s a skill for which no training is required, it seems to be hardwired into our DNA.

To be fair, not all worry is problematic. Worry that is limited and kept in perspective can help you identify problems and find solutions.

It’s when worrying becomes excessive that it causes more harm than good.

Chronic worrying is an exhausting process that almost never accomplishes anything and over time can adversely affect your health, and relationships, and lead to anxiety, which is why everyone keeps telling you to stop it.

Just. Stop. It.

Of course, you’ve heard all of this before, and if you’re like most people, you get it, you really do, and yet you still can’t seem to get a handle on how to finally kick the worry habit.

But if you allow that worrying is a habit, then you must also accept that you can break it, and the first step is to understand that fundamentally worry is about the need for control.

Why We Worry

We worry to try and find certainty in uncertain situations, and because we believe worrying will not only help us to find solutions, but the act itself will somehow lower the likelihood of realizing our worst fears.

The advice about how to manage chronic worrying tends to focus on methods such as meditation and mindfulness, exercise, schedule time to worry, etc.

These strategies play an important role in helping you to calm frayed nerves and gain emotional clarity, but there is more work to be done.

The simple truth is that the more you struggle to stop worrying the harder all those thoughts and beliefs that have been running roughshod over you for so long will push back.

if you want to finally overcome chronic worry you need to create a new habit to replace the old dysfunctional one, and one of the most effective methods to accomplish this shift is journaling.

If you’ve never tried journaling, or doubt the value of putting your thoughts in writing, consider the following list of benefits published by the Rochester Medical Center in their article Journaling for Mental Health.

  • Manage anxiety
  • Reduce stress
  • Cope with depression
  • Prioritize problems, fears, and concerns.
  • Identify triggers and find better ways to cope.
  • An opportunity for positive self-talk and identifying negative thoughts and behaviors.

One of the things I love about journaling is there is no right or wrong way to do it, you are free to create your own path to achieve your desired outcome.

To illustrate let’s work on grinding down the chronic worry habit one step at a time.

Journal what you love, what you hate, what’s in your head and (especially) what you want to get out of your head. Journaling organizes your thoughts and helps to clarify problems and find solutions by revealing things in a concrete way that otherwise you might not see.

The Worry Journal

Dedicating a journal to worry enables you to create a private, safe place to explore your thougths and feelings.

This is where you will separate the issues that deserve your attention from the things that are needlessly taking up space in your mind so that you can find solutions and move on.

Following are 5 simple steps on your path to overcoming chronic worry.

Step 1: Clear the Mental Clutter

The first step is to focus your thoughts by clearing the mental clutter.

Imagine that junk drawer in the kitchen, your mind looks a lot like that when it’s filled with endless worries of all shapes and sizes, not to mention frustrations and guilt over what you never seem to get around to doing.

So the first thing you want to do is make a list of absolutely everything (no matter how small) you can think of that is weighing on your mind.

Prioritize your list and identify the problem that is causing you the most concern to focus on, then set the list aside because you’re going to use it again later.

Half the worry in the world is caused by people trying to make decisions before they have sufficient knowledge on which to base that decision.
~Herbert Hawkes, Dean of Columbia College

Step 2: What Do You Know for Certain?

Once you set your focus, write a detailed description of the issue that you’re worried about and what you know for certain about it.

Not what you assume, feel, have heard or been told, but you know for certain.

Identify the gaps, and do what you can to fill them in so you have a complete picture. 

You can’t even know for sure what you’re worried about really is a problem worth investing your time and energy on, let alone how to solve it, if you don’t know the facts.

Step 3: What Can You Do About It?

Once you have the facts before you, the first question is what do you have control over.

Let’s say you have a bill that will be due in a week and you’re worried about whether or not you’ll have enough money to make the payment.

This may seem like something you’d already know, but many people will choose to avoid confirming the truth of their situation because they can’t bring themselves to face what they are sure will be bad news.

Let’s say it turns out you don’t have enough money.

The obvious options include finding a way of (legally) making extra money, sell or pawn something, borrow it from a friend or relative, or call the company and ask for an extension. 

There may be other solutions depending upon your circumstances, but the important thing is to decide on a course of action and don’t wait until the last minute to act.

I want to dwell here a little longer to talk about the nature of choices.

It’s not uncommon for people to convince themselves they have no options to change their situation.

There are always options, it’s just that when you don’t like the choices you have, it becomes pretty easy to turn a blind eye to them.

So, as your exploring solutions to whatever is the source of your worry, try to open your mind to ALL possibilities, not just those that are comfortable and convenient.

Step 4: Take Action

Traditional advice for getting yourself going nearly always starts with start small, one step at a time, etc. I’ve said it myself many times, and it is still solid advice.

That said, as I pointed out in my last article on building forward momentum, sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between slow growth and no growth.

Start small, but build momentum so you can make progress toward removing this worry once and for all.

Step 5: What Can You Learn from This?

This is a critical step, and it’s almost always ignored.

Grab that list you made of all the things you were worrying about, put on your detective hat and look for themes and patterns.

Researchers have found that as much as 50% of the situations that are the source of our worries are repeated again and again and many of them have to do with poor communication, lack of personal boundaries and money.

Identifying these patterns is the first step toward solving them for good and in the process providing a healthy boost for your confidence and resilience.

Closing Thoughts

Understanding that worrying is a choice is empowering, but to free yourself of this habit once and for all you need to create a healthier, more proactive habit to replace it.

So next time you’re feeling stressed about something, try grabbing your Worry Journal write it down and get it out of your head so you can do the work to either resolve or discard it for good.

Related reading:

Will you be the passenger or the driver in your life journey?
About Marquita A. Herald

Marquita Herald

Marquita is an author, pathfinder, resilience coach and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.

She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.

To learn more about Marquita and Emotionally Resilient Living Start Here

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6 Reader Comments

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  1. We’ve known each other for a while, although only virtually, but this I can say without question, your positive attitude and adventurous spirit never cease to inspire me. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts, Doreen!

  2. First, let me acknowledge that breaking the worry habit is tough, there is no question about that Phonecia! But here’s something else I know, we are who we believe we are, and you have defined yourself as a worrier. You believe that because it’s been part of who you are for most if not all of your life so you accept it as fact. You don’t have to suddenly stop worrying, you can (and should) take it slowly, but nothing will happen until you change your story about who you believe yourself to be. I think this will be a good topic to explore next week. 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts Phoenicia, I always appreciate your thoughtful comments.

  3. The issue of dealing with things that are out of our control is a tough one for sure Donna. Acceptance of what is maybe the first step to finding peace with that, but often there are things we can do to minimize damage or find our way to a better outcome. Putting our thoughts in writing is such a powerful way to work through these challenges! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us Donna.

  4. Hi Marquita. I seem to be blessed, as I’ve never been a worrier. I truly try to keep only positive thoughts in my head and drive out any negativity without consideration. That may result on are occasion in the making of a ‘bad decision.’ But by far, it has blessed me with a myriad of wonderfully positive and exciting moments and experiences that I never would have had, had I taken the time to rationalize about them.
    Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…5 tips to achieving big goalsMy Profile

  5. Insightful post Marquita.

    I have always been an overthinker and a worrier. I recall my worry as a young child aged eight/nine at not being invited to a peer’s birthday party. It consumed me and took my joy. As a teenager my worry escalated, the majority of which I kept to myself.

    It is challenging to suddenly stop worrying when you have spent decades doing so. It will take a willingness and commitment particularly when you fall along the way. It is worth it least trying even if you feel you take one step forward and then ten steps back.

    Thanks for the encouragement.

  6. Hi Marquita,

    Worrying is such a waste of time and energy. However, there are times where I’m plagued by worry over what I think is not in my control. But That’s where the trusty journal comes in. I’m a strong believer of writing things down to rid them from my head.
    I go through similar steps mentioned here and when I look at the end result on my journal, I sometimes laugh at myself. Other times I take a point of action to rid the worry by taking those baby steps to a goal.
    Thanks for addressing this issue,