What is worrying and why do we do it? How excessive anxiety can harm your health and happiness

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Worrying is a phenomenon that almost all humans are familiar with. It’s a mental process characterized by repetitive negative thoughts about potential problems or threats in the future. However, these thoughts are often exaggerated or unrealistic.

Worrying tends to be unproductive because it is a form of mental time travel into an imagined future that rarely comes to pass. But our minds get trapped in a cycle of “what if” scenarios that stir up anxiety and discomfort. Excessive worrying can become a mental habit and anxiety disorder.

Why Do We Worry?

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Our ancestors’ constant state of worry about survival helped them avoid danger. So worry and anxiety became hardwired into our genes over time. But in today’s world, most of our worries center around social and financial issues rather than physical threats.

Many factors can cause worrying:

• Genetics: Some people are biologically predisposed to be worriers due to genes.

• Personality: Neurotic and pessimistic personalities tend to worry more frequently.

• Life events: Major life changes like starting a new job or moving can trigger worrying thoughts.

• Stress: When under stress, our minds turn to worrying as a way to feel more in control.

• Trauma: People with past trauma often struggle with persistent worrying.

• Mental illness: Anxiety disorders, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder often feature excessive worrying.

The Impact of Worrying

While worrying may initially feel like a way to prepare for the worst, it actually has a number of negative effects:

• Increased anxiety, insomnia and depression

• Impaired concentration, focus and decision making

• Panic attacks, stomach issues and headaches

• Lowers motivation and productivity

• Hurts relationships due to frequent negativity

• Makes threats seem bigger than they really are

So if excessive worrying is negatively impacting your mental health or daily life, it’s important to take actionable steps to reduce it. Taking control of your worrying thoughts rather than letting them control you can greatly improve your well-being and outlook.

Here are some ways to stop worrying:

• Practice mindfulness and meditation. Focusing on the present moment without judgment can help quell anxiety and worrying thoughts. Start with 5-10 minutes a day.

• Talk to a professional therapist. A therapist can help identify the root causes of your worrying and give you strategies and cognitive behavioral techniques to manage anxiety.

• Challenge negative thoughts. When a worrying thought enters your mind, evaluate how realistic it actually is. Try to reframe it in a more rational, positive way.

• Take things one step at a time. Break large tasks into small, manageable steps. Focus only on the next immediate step, not the entire project.

• Do something. Taking action, even small action, can alleviate worry since you’re no longer just thinking about the issue. Start with one simple step.

• Limit caffeine and sugar. These can trigger anxiety and racing thoughts in some people. Try reducing your intake and noticing any impact on your worrying.

• Exercise daily. As little as 10-15 minutes of exercise can boost feel-good hormones like endorphins and serotonin, leaving you mentally and physically drained in a good way.

• Practice deep breathing. Taking deep, slow breaths for 2-5 minutes when you notice worrying thoughts can activate your parasympathetic nervous system and help you relax.

• Get enough sleep. Aim for 7-9 hours per night. Lack of sleep has been linked to increased anxiety and worrying. Establish a wind-down routine before bed.

— Aunty Lisa (My Zimbabwe News)


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