Man sitting and worrying with hand on his face.

Help! I'm Worried All The Time

Liadan Gunter
April 18, 2024
February 28, 2024

“I can’t stop thinking about it,” or “what if x,y, or z happens?” These are statements I hear from many of my clients who can’t seem to stop worrying all the time. Do you recognize yourself in those questions? Do you tend to expect the worst and ruminate over what could go wrong? 

If so – you’re not alone. Many of my clients say they think worrying helps them. They’re under the impression that it somehow keeps them prepared for anything that might occur. But it doesn’t help actually – does it? It’s merely an illusion, and here’s why…

Constantly expecting the worst or worrying about what could happen keeps you in a state of heightened anxiety and stress constantly on the lookout for potential threats. Our brain’s alarm system is going off desperately searching for some sort of potential solution,  screaming: “hey – we need to sort this out!” 

However, many find themselves trapped in the relentless cycle of worry – never getting to problem-solving mode. They simply ruminate over and over about potential scenarios, and that’s where they stay. This can loop over and over again leaving you stuck in a constant state of anxiety without providing any real solution.

So while we think worrying may help us solve the problem or potential problems that may arise, it actually doesn’t. It’s not a functional protection strategy, even though it may seem that way. 

If you’re used to worrying all the time, your brain is going to keep telling you to worry. This is because, over time, you’ve learned that this is the way to deal with uncertainty. Our brain tends to keep us stuck in learned patterns even if they’re not actually serving us. It prefers familiarity even if that familiarity is not in our best interest. 

It’s up to you to recognize that worrying all the time isn’t serving you. It’s not keeping you more safe. Nor does it actually help you solve the problem, or make you more prepared. While I know this can seem like an impossible feat, I have some strategies that can help you get there. You can use them in the moment to help you shift out of a worried state of mind, or even preemptively. 

5 Tips to Worry Less 

1. Practice Staying Present 

Worries are usually about the future. What could happen, what might not happen, and what could go wrong. When we worry, we aren’t present. If you can shift your focus to the present moment, you’ll direct your thoughts away from worry. The future is rippled with uncertainty, and uncertainty is inherently scary to our brains. When we’re present, we know what’s at play - it’s less uncertain because it’s directly in front of us. 

So if you’re struggling with worry, try directing your focus to the present moment as best as you can. You can use grounding techniques to help you get out of your head and future projecting and transport yourself to the physical space you’re in. You can look for something to touch or state out loud what you see, and what you hear. Activating your senses helps you to take stock of where you are. This is a powerful trick to help you focus on your present. 

Additionally, engaging in a mindfulness meditation practice daily trains your brain to shift your focus to the present. You can do this in the moment when you’re worried, or have a specific time of day that you practice mindfulness meditation which tends to quiet your brain preemptively. So it’s a great in-the-moment tool to use, but also a great preventative measure – all the while strengthening your ability to direct your focus over time. This will help you in the future switch from thinking about your worries to controlling your focus on the present. 

2. Focus on what you can control 

Now that you’re present, direct your energy and focus on what it is you can actually control at the moment.

Worry is also a feeling of a lack of control. Let’s say you have a presentation to give. It’s for an important client, your boss is going to be there, and you’re feeling that the stakes are high. Your mind begins to wander over all the different scenarios. What if I forget the script? What if I stutter, or can’t get my words out? What if my computer dies in the middle of the presentation? 

Our minds play tricks on us sometimes like this, but if you can direct your focus to what you can control, it takes the focus off of the potential danger and allows you some form of taking action that could offset the chance your worries come to fruition. 

For example, instead of ruminating over these what–ifs, you decide to practice your presentation 5 times before bed and make sure you charge your computer while you sleep. 

When we’re focused on a task, it recruits brain areas that quiet and dampen the effect of the amygdala, the part of your brain associated with anxiety and threat detection, and increases activity in your problem-solving areas like the pre-frontal cortex. 

Not only that but when we’re deeply focused, we’re more likely to be happy. In fact, it’s when our minds wander that we’re more likely to be unhappy and experience negative ruminating thoughts. So, deeply engaging in a task by focusing on something you can control will help keep your worries at bay, and likely, even, improve the outcome because you’re taking action in that direction versus sitting idly with your worries. 

3. Visualize yourself conquering your worry 

Another thing to consider doing is to practice visualizing yourself tackling your worry head on. Let’s say you’re training for a marathon. You’ve been worrying about it for weeks, and it’s coming up. You keep having a fear that you won’t finish, or that everyone else around you is going to bypass you. 

Instead, try visualizing yourself doing the opposite of this worry such as crossing the finish line, running at an amazing time, or feeling extremely happy during the race. 

Our brains don’t know the difference between what’s imagined and what’s real. If you think it, you can create it. So if you’re thinking that you won’t make it, your brain will believe it. However, if you imagine yourself winning your brain can believe that too. The trick is to repeatedly visualize yourself conquering this worry to help you strengthen this belief over your worry. 

4. Challenge your thoughts 

It’s also important to challenge your thoughts. Challenge these worries head-on. If you’re worried about flunking out of school, try challenging this worry. 

You can do so by looking for evidence to support how this worry isn’t true and try to provide yourself with evidence that shows how the opposite is true. You may consider looking at your grades, for example. Or ask your professors for some feedback to accurately gauge your performance. 

Challenging our worries is a crucial part of mastering our worries. Often what we worry about is unlikely to happen, and tends to run on a loop. Challenging them helps you disentangle this loop and call it out for what it is. Remember not all of what we think is accurate. We can’t believe everything we think. Get in the habit of questioning your thoughts – especially if they are causing you distress. 

5. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule 

When we’re sleep-deprived, particularly when we don’t get enough REM sleep, we’re more emotional. REM sleep is very important for the filtering out of negative emotions. If you don’t get enough REM sleep, you’re essentially keeping all the negative emotions front and center, and you’re not allowing them to be cleared out and processed.

This is going to make it much more likely that you ruminate over your worries. REM sleep is important for positive thinking. So, if you don’t get proper sleep, you’ll notice that you’re more likely to view the world through a more negative lens. 

So if you’re looking to keep worrying at the wayside – make sure your sleep is prioritized. You want to aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night, and you want to aim to have roughly 90 minutes of REM sleep and deep sleep per night to function optimally. 

Concluding Thoughts 

Ultimately, if you’re struggling with worrying all the time, know that it’s extremely common. Life is challenging, and the future can be scary. We want things to go well, and sometimes it seems like worrying can help us make that happen. I understand, and it’s very relatable. Just remember though, worrying doesn’t tend to help much at all. Try to let the worry pass over you, and remember – you don’t have to engage with every thought you have, especially if it’s causing you trouble. This is of course much easier said than done, but these strategies should help make it a little easier. Give them a try today, and see for yourself.

Liadan Gunter
Liadan Gunter
Liadan Maire Gunter is a Coach, Behavioral Scientist, and Founder of The Rewiring Lens. She is trained in neuroscience, psychology, and anthropology, before creating her own path in the field of self-development. At Nivati, she works as a life coach and content writer where she bridges the gap between science and self-development. She also runs a company, The Rewiring Lens, aimed at bringing science-backed tools designed to rewire people’s brains so that they can create their best selves. There she co-hosts a podcast on the same subject.