How do I stop worrying so much?
July 10, 2006 1:31 PM   Subscribe

How do I stop worrying so much?

I have always been something of a worrier. But in the past 3-4 weeks I can't stop and it seems to only be getting worse. My body is tense, stomach in knots almost perpetually. Most of this worry concerns my relationship with my spouse. My spouse is a very loving, caring and all around wonderful person. I have no reason to have doubts about our relationship but here I am with nonstop thoughts and feelings of impending doom. I am ususally a very confident and sure person. This worry has eroded that confidence signicantly as of late. I am becoming afraid that this worry will, in effect, sabotage my marriage. I do not want this to ruin my marriage and to consume my life as it seems to have done lately. Logically, mentally I know that I have no reason to worry but emotionally I can't seem to stop.

What have you done to eradicate such worry and regain control of your life?

I would prefer responses to be posted here but if you would prefer to email me please send email to:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
This is much easier to say than do, but it stopped me from worrying about so many things.

After years of worrying and constant axiety I finally came to the realization that most of the things I worried about were completely out of my control. It happened almost instantly. Sure, I had heard that before, but for some reason it really clicked and I no longer worried about things beyone my control. I used to worry about Geo-Political issues, natural disasters, loved ones death's, fatal diseases, and a million other things all the time. And now I don't.

Worry about what you can control and convert that worry into action. You're life will be much happier.

But, in your particular case, talk talk talk to your spouse. If they are as loving and caring as you say, they will certainly understand your problem and help you work through it.
posted by blueplasticfish at 1:39 PM on July 10, 2006

I am not religious, nor an alcoholic, but the Serenity Prayer makes sense to me and might make sense to you:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
posted by hazelshade at 1:47 PM on July 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

its just life-- we're all gonna die in 50 -60 years anyway and be gone. as long as you're alive the other stuff isnt worth worrying too much about. for the physical feelings you might want to try xanax. but mostly i would suggest trying not to focus on it much-- ie dont get into the trap where youre worrying about being worried or having anxiety about being anxious. anxiety happens, its natural, it might just be the way you are. think about other things. i would not recommend going to a psychologist and begin to overanalyze everything you do-- they will take the unique and incomprehensibly complex person that you are and try to define it into a list of problems-- things to worry about
posted by petsounds at 1:49 PM on July 10, 2006

I can feel your pain. I also worry a lot. My father is a somewhat of a worrier also, and I think I inherited it from him. Mostly I worry about outside forces I cannot control, or I worry for people. Most recently I was literally a mess for a week or so, because a small child died a tragic death on Fathers Day in my town. I couldn't stop worrying for the parents. My stomach was in knots also, and my heart literally ached. You would of think somebody close to me died, because I couldn't stop crying and worrying for these parents grief, and thinking they would never be happy again.

Yes, I am crazy. I probably have a fear of losing my own children. The family had two small boys like I do.

Maybe you worry that your husband might leave you, or your relationship is "too good to be true". Have has anybody that you loved abandoned you in the past?

You can't control if your husband stays or leaves, or falls out of love with you. Maybe you worry about your relationship, because you lack that control.

I am almost positive my worry stems from lack of control. I am somewhat of a control freak. Plus, I let thoughts ruminate in my brain. It only makes me more depressed, sad, and worry more. I find that I worry less when I am most engaged in life. Hanging out with friends, my family, and creating fulfilling relationships with people causes me to worry less.

Have you been extra busy at work, or been a homebody lately? If so, try to get out and do something fun more often, call a friend, go out on more dates with your spouse. It might stop the worries.
posted by LoriFLA at 1:51 PM on July 10, 2006

Umm, did something happen 3 or 4 weeks ago to cause this change? Maybe there's a root cause that's spilling over into everything else. If you can fix that, maybe you'll feel better.

The root cause is probably not obvious or you'd have figured it out by now. Just think about all the things that happened about a month ago and see if anything clicks. At least you can divert some of the mental energy spent on worrying about everything into analyzing the specific problem.
posted by Quietgal at 1:51 PM on July 10, 2006

I've gone through the same anxiety problems. Working with a shrink you can find ways to deal with the symptoms. I ended up on Lexapro and it's helped a lot.

Serenity now prayers won't work. Taking a vacation won't work. Trying to have more fun won't work. Prayers won't work.

If you have insurance, go in for a intake and find out of you have an anxiety disorder. There are a lot of good medications that work well with minimal side-affects.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 1:56 PM on July 10, 2006

Please do not go on Xanax unless your worry is debilitating. Xanax is highly addictive. I am sure a lot of people use it responsibly, but don't start something like Xanax unless you have to. A med for social anxiety, like Paxil, might be a better bet. Talk to your doctor about it, if you feel like you should start meds.

Like previous posters have said though, worry is a common thing. Some people are worriers, and some aren't. Actually I think some people don't worry enough, but who am I to say? Petsounds, gives good advice--try not to focus on the worry for too long. Easier said than done, I am sure. I need to say that Serenity Prayer myself, when I worry about things beyond my control.

You might want to engage in some regular aerobic exercise if you aren't already. It calms anxiety and worries.
posted by LoriFLA at 2:00 PM on July 10, 2006

xanax is addictive? i take it all the time and im not addicted. i could stop anytime
posted by petsounds at 2:05 PM on July 10, 2006

It's physically addictive, you might be able to give up mentally but your body will hate you for it.
posted by geoff. at 2:09 PM on July 10, 2006

Yes, petsounds Xanax is highly addictive. Reputable doctors should not prescribe Xanax to a patient long-term. You shouldn't take or need Xanax everyday. It is strictly to be used on an as needed basis. You could compare it to Valium.

Xanax is habit forming. You can become physically and psychologically dependent on the medication. Do not take more than the prescribed amount of medication or take it for longer than is directed by your doctor. Withdrawal effects may occur if Xanax is stopped suddenly after several weeks of continuous use. Seizures may be a side effect of sudden discontinuation of the medication. Your doctor may recommend a gradual reduction in dose.
posted by LoriFLA at 2:09 PM on July 10, 2006

May I suggest Cognitive Behaviour Therapy? One book in particular that I found really useful was David Burns' Feeling Good where you work out logically what you're afraid of, and whether it's reasonable or logical to pay so much attention to this issue. (Which you seem to think it's not - but the book does give you specific methods in not paying so much attention).

Secondly, I recommend hard exercise to give you relief - how can you be thinking about your spouse, when your body is aching and you're sweating up a storm? Also, of course, hopefully, the endorphins will help make a difference, and regular exercise is effective sometimes in the treatment of depression.
posted by b33j at 2:16 PM on July 10, 2006

I've been reading The Worry Cure lately, which is an approach grounded in Cogntive Behavioral Therapy. I found it's helped quite a bit in terms of identifying how I worry -- that is, what kinds of things I worry about, why I worry about them, and what I think my worrying will accomplish -- which in turn has helped to find specific ways to short-circuit the worry cycle in order to stay in the present rather than trying to control hypothetical scenarios of personal catastrophe in the future.

Good luck!
posted by scody at 2:16 PM on July 10, 2006

Scody's right about staying in the present moment. This can be similar to over-thinking and this askMe had some good advice that may apply.

Practice clearing your head when you're worrying. After you recognize a time you're worrying about the future, try and do something that makes you focus on where you are right then. For a simple example, say you start washing the dishes to distract yourself from worrying. Think about every aspect of washing the dishes. How the water feels, the sounds... and only that activity. At first you're mind will drift. When you notice it doing so, make an effort to focus again on the dishes.

Do this with every activity you do. Slowly you'll build up the ability to be where you are and not worry about your future or ruminate about the past. This is a progressive habit that you'll get better at over time.

When you're with your spouse, think only of what you two are doing right then. Stop yourself from thinking: what about this or that. Think only of your current moment.

After a while and with some practice you'll notice that you've chained together many moments where you were enjoying where you were and not thinking about the future or the past. You'll be enjoying where you are. And you won't see the need to worry about something you're not confronted with at that moment.

Good luck.
posted by dog food sugar at 2:42 PM on July 10, 2006

It sounds like you may have OCD. I have this myself (although not much in the worry department) and I don't want to armchair diagnose you, or worry you further! But it's a possibility you might consider.
posted by agregoli at 2:50 PM on July 10, 2006

Xanax like all benzodiazapines has a strong potential for tolerance and dependence if used for extended periods but are not usually considered addictive--don't ask. People with a histiory of drug or alcohol abuse are also much more likely to become dependent on benzo's and/or abuse them. Having said that, Xanax, or other benzo's can be a perfectly appropriate drug in many circumstances and one should not run from them screaming---if they were as problematic as some people wouls have us believe there would be millions of benzo abusers in the US and there are not. In fact--the odds of abuse or dependence are very slight. If the worry (anxiety) persists past six months, interfers with major life activities or causes substantial pain see a profesional CBt therapist and consult a physician. My Best
posted by rmhsinc at 2:53 PM on July 10, 2006

b33j's suggestion for exercise is a good one too. When you're worrying put your shoes on and just start running. Listen to yourself breathe as you do it. Count your breathes or steps if your mind keeps going back to worrying. You are in the habit of worrying. You can break that habit like any other. Find ways that distract you from the activity of worrying. The physical activity will help your physical symptoms.
posted by dog food sugar at 3:06 PM on July 10, 2006

I might recommend changing your e-mail address - it may be doing bad things by osmosis.

Just my $0.02
posted by jimmy0x52 at 3:40 PM on July 10, 2006

You should approach the problem in two ways. You're going through an acute heightened period of anxiety, so you might want to see if xanax helps. I've taken xanax, and although it is technically addictive, I had no trouble just taking it when I needed it (which was actually less than the prescribed dose). They come in .25 and .5 mg tablets. Antidepressants are also very effective in reducing anxiety, although they can take several weeks to work and you may have to try a few different ones until you find one that works for you and doesn't have (or has tolerable) side effects. A medication that can calm you down in a matter of minutes is benadryl antistamine tablets or any generic equivalent containing diphenhydramine. I think of it as a poor man's over the counter anti-anxiety medication. Drowsiness is a side effect of benadryl, which can actually be helpful in reducing anxiety. The recommended dose is two tablets, but perhaps you'd want to try one so you don't get too drowsy and just feel calmer. Obviously don't drive or operate machinery until you discover how the medication affects you. Exercise helps a great deal too; if your body is relaxed and/or tired, it's hard to feel uptight and worried at the same time. So make a point of working out or running several times a week. Yoga is great too, and seems custom made for reducing anxiety.

It seems that at least some of your anxiety is centered around your marriage, so come clean with your spouse and tell him/her what you're feeling, even you're embarrassed. Reassurance, intimacy and physical contact from your mate make you feel more secure. And verbalize all your worries, preferably to your spouse, but otherwise to a friend or even to your pet or yourself. Things tend to be more worrying and confusing if they're in your head. You need to feel comfortable blurting out every thought that's bothering you stream of consciousness style, even if they sound silly or irrational. You will feel measurably better afterwards, even if you're "confessing" to your dog.

Now, in order to learn to deal with your anxiety in the long-term, you may want to talk to a therapist who is experienced in treating anxiety disorders. Biofeedback, yoga, and self help books can be used independently or in conjunction with therapy.

Sorry about the awkward prose, but I've been up a long time.

Good luck. I promise you will feel much better soon :)
posted by Devils Slide at 3:54 PM on July 10, 2006

I second the reco for The Worry Cure--it's informative and surprisingly helpful, even if for short periods of time.

If you've been a lifelong worrier, though, (and I am) you'll need to first accept this about yourself. Don't feel bad about it--we are who we are and life events cause us to create coping mechanisms.

CBT borrows partially from Buddhist meditation: the idea that one observes one's emotions and lets them pass away. "Oh, I feel suddenly anxious about X"--the difficulty, of course, is getting to a point where you don't fall down the worry rabbit hole with each issue that arises. It is not easy, it does not happen overnight. But as in so many things, practice makes perfect and there's no harm in faking it till you make it.

Be patient with yourself. Be honest with your partner about the challenges you are facing. "I have these fears and I know they're all made up by my busy, bored brain, but wow, they feel so real--I may need your help and reassurance from time to time. Please know that I'm trying to get past this."

Good luck!
posted by gsh at 4:04 PM on July 10, 2006

I think it runs in our genes, whether or not we tend to worry too much. Are/were your folks worriers too? Try to come to terms with it as if it was part of your make up, like blue eyes. Then, try to be logical about what you are worrying about. Reassure yourself that you realize you have a disposition to worry too much, and start keeping track of things that ended up okay in the end.
posted by maloon at 4:25 PM on July 10, 2006

Serenity now prayers won't work. Taking a vacation won't work. Trying to have more fun won't work. Prayers won't work.

This not true. I have had pretty debilitating anxiety/worry, and I've treated it with drugs in the past. I've found that I can (usually) control it just as well with a little bit of that serenity prayer and a little bit of help from people I know well.

Just being reminded that my anxiety/worry is disproportional to reality, that I've been through this before, and that I've been OK in the past is a huge relief. Nothing beats a little perspective, especially when it comes from somewhere other than my busy, busy brain.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:54 PM on July 10, 2006

I find that when I'm stressed and my head is 'full', exercise helps. Go for a long, brisk walk (or run) outside. Endorphins work wonders.
posted by Lucie at 4:55 PM on July 10, 2006

Pick up a Paintbrush and tell the canvas about your worries.
posted by Sprayboothwilly at 5:07 PM on July 10, 2006

Talking to someone about your worries - a trusted, neutral party - can be very helpful for this kind of situation.

If you were to talk to a professional - a doctor, a therapist, a counselor, a social worker, your religious person (priest, rabbi, imam, rinpoche or whatever) - you would find that your situation is not all that unusual, and that those people have the experience of talking to many folks in your situation.

The reason this can be helpful to you is that, after having some experience with talking to folks like you, a professional person can then point you towards some resources - helpful resources, resources for relief of the problem - which are appropriate to your particular case.

So I think that's where I'd start, if I were you. Recall that this kind of pathological, inappropriate, ungrounded anxiety is fixable - I hope (and believe) that you can feel better soon!
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:43 PM on July 10, 2006

This may not help but was a useful perspective shift for me.

When you worry about something, you feel the actual pain of the feared event over and over and over until such time as it either happens or doesn't happen.

So if you're worried about getting fired for example, you play it through in your head over and over, say, 100 times. If you do get fired, you feel that pain 101 times. If you don't get fired, you still feel it 100 times.

In the first case, once is bad enough. Did you really need to feel it 100 extra times? Clearly it didn't help. It didn't prevent you from getting fired. So you might as well not have worried. If you're going to get fired (or dumped, or beat up, or excluded, or whatever), just limit it to that one instance of pain. How much pain do you want to feel over the course of your life?

And if the outcome in the above scenario was that you did not get fired, well, you felt the pain unnecessarily 100 times. And what a pointless waste that was.

I supppose it's a long way of saying that worrying accomplishes nothing and only causes pain. You are the creator of this pain, so be good to yourself.

Sounds easier said than done, I know, but that logical view helped me, and I think of it every time I have a big worry. I think it requires a surrendering to life. You have to let go and let things happen, even bad things. And you must trust that you will cope with whatever results, just like you have with every thing that has ever happened in your life prior to now. "In the destructive element immerse yourself." Sounds like Yoda but Joseph Conrad it is. Talking about life he is, mmm yyyesss.
posted by kookoobirdz at 8:28 PM on July 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

Most of the advise here from drugs to techniques will only make matters worse. The big problem with worry is that you are worred about being worried so you try to get rid of worry which cause you to worry more.
1. Worry is usually a distraction from being angry at someone you think you shouldn't be angry at, like your wife. "My spouse is a very loving, caring and all around wonderful person" Maybe you are angry because she isn't all that or because she is too damn good. Just tell yourself you are angry at her when ever you start to worry, no reason to tell her you are angry at her.
2. Worry comes from not accepting something which includes not accepting that you are worring. Love your worry, worry needs love too.
3. Love you are angry and love you are worried about it.
posted by zackdog at 12:11 AM on July 11, 2006

I want to very heavily second the OCD comment. It sounds to me like you have something that we OCD-ers slang as "ROCD"--relationship OCD. I have had it myself. You may or may not have it, but if you would like more information, or perhaps to hear first-hand accounts and see if they sound similar to what you are feeling, I highly recommend Stuck in a Doorway. I have found it very helpful throughout times or intense OCD "attacks" to read through the stories and comments there. They make me feel normal and help me keep in mind that there are other people out there with the specific OCD experiences that I have. It might help you a lot.

If it does sound familiar, I recommend first telling your significant other that you may or may not have OCD and you are looking into it. If your spouse is as loving and caring as you have described, s/he will probably be very supportive throughout the following steps. Next, see a doctor. There are medications, such as SSRIs, that are specifically engineered toward this disorder. Anti-anxiety medications and other can help a lot, too. There is also cognitive behavioral therapy specifically for OCD. While I have never tried it myself, I have seen it work wonders in others.

If you do have this, you have many options, and I can tell you from experience that you can find a course of treatment that will end that horrible feeling in your stomach [I call it "bloody butterflies"] and make you feel sane again.

Good luck.
posted by starbaby at 10:47 AM on July 11, 2006

Also, check this out: Anxiety Disorders of America.
posted by cyniczny at 6:41 AM on July 12, 2006

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