When Worry Works and When It Doesn’t

It seems like there is always something new to worry about. Just as things seemed to be calming down in terms of the pandemic, we were suddenly told we needed to worry again about new variants. If we watch the news or our Twitter feed for any amount of time, we’re sure to walk away with a new reason to worry. Suddenly, our favorite foods are bad for our health, our children are being adversely affected by cellphones, there is too much pollution to safely breathe outside and the oceans creeping closer and closer to our doorsteps.


In some ways, the ability to worry may seem like an important failsafe in the human design. When we worry, we prevent ourselves from taking unnecessary risks, and we subsequently stay safe. When we’re worried about skin cancer or aging, we wear sunscreen, when we worry about high cholesterol, we eat healthier and when we’re worried about doing well on a test, we study. In this way, worry incites us to take the actions we need to in order to get a better outcome. But unrestricted worry can be dangerous, and when it begins to consume us, it can really take a toll. Constant worry is no friend.


But when is worry good and when is it bad? As illustrated above, worry is a good when it inspires us to take some practical action that serves us. If you’re worried about getting cavities, you will consistently brush your teeth. Worry can become a problem when you begin to chronically worry about things that you cannot do anything about. This can happen in the case of large, abstract problems over which you have no direct control. If you can’t do anything about the thing that you’re worrying about, it’s actually not a productive way to spend your time.


It’s this kind of worrying that could have detrimental effects on your health. Worrying can infiltrate your life to the point that it interferes with your sleep, your appetite, your relationships and even your ability to do your job. From there, worry can start to affect your body by causing ulcers, muscle tension and high blood pressure. If you don’t have great methods of relieving this worry, you might instead try to curb the worry with external options, like drinking or smoking. Trying to quell worry with drugs or alcohol only suppresses the problem. It doesn’t eliminate the source of the problem, and it doesn’t bring about an authentic calm or peace.


In order to effectively deal with intense worry, mindfulness can be a helpful practice. Draw a line between the things that you can control and the things you can’t control, and work to truly let go of those that are out of your hands. It might help to re-engage with the present moment. Stop thinking about things too far in the future or past. You have no control outside of the present moment, so try to stay present as much as possible. When you notice your thoughts getting away from you, bring yourself back to the current moment, and look for healthy actions that you can take to help bring about a result you want.


Worry can be a great ally when you use it to take a preventative action, but if you let it get out of control, you will live at its mercy. Do your best to create a healthy balance. Worry when you can do something your situation, and let it go when you can’t.