According to a recent Gallup poll, daily worry has increased among Americans since the presidential election. There was also an increase in worry after President Obama’s 2008 election, though not as much. Times of change and uncertainty often cause people to worry more.
Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson speaks with Michelle Newman, professor of psychiatry and psychology at Penn State University, about why we worry and how to stop doing it so much.
Understanding What’s Behind Your Worrying …
“Worry is anticipation of threat,” Newman says. “Usually it’s about the future. And we often do it to prepare for the worst possible outcome or to motivate ourselves. Those are the two most common reasons why people say they worry.”
- Worrying is a problem when it’s chronic and uncontrollable. Once you start worrying, you can’t stop.
- Worrying can affect your health: “If you’re worrying chronically, there is data to show that worry is associated with future coronary heart disease problems and there’s psychoneuroimmunology data showing that it can suppress the immune system.”
- Writing down your worries doesn’t help: “It helps to know what the things are that tend to trigger your worries and write that down. But actually writing out your worries or talking out your worries is pretty much the same as worrying.”
… And How To Stop It
“Understand that, ultimately, worrying, for the most part, doesn’t really help,” Newman says.
- Notice what triggers you to start worrying, and avoid the trigger if you can: “Know what sorts of things trigger your worry. So begin to identify the types of things that tend to lead you to worry, and then the minute you encounter that trigger, to try to relax, let it go, cut it off then. As opposed to waiting until it gets really intense.”
- Try to cut off your worrying right away by finding a way to distract yourself or a way to calm down.
- Try relaxation techniques and exercise: “There are several intervention techniques that work really well. One of them is simply relaxation. Various relaxation or meditation techniques can be really helpful. Exercise is great.”
- Dealing with worry before bed: “Sleep is great, but people who tend to worry chronically often begin to worry more right when they are trying to fall asleep. So it is good to engage in behaviors that are good for sleep hygiene. And those would include things like, if you notice yourself worrying, leave the bed, go somewhere else, try to read or relax before getting back into bed so the bed isn’t associated with worry.”