Apple Magazine

Don’t fret: worrying can hurt you

Focus on what’s going on today, not future “what-ifs”


“Worry is like a rocking chair: It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.” —Erma Bombeck

It wakens us in the middle of the night, ages and distracts us, makes us irritable and eats away at our souls.

Worry is a powerful state of anxiety that can have many negative repercussions on our mental and physical well-being.

It can, however, be overcome.

“Worry is thinking about the future, while focusing on negative outcomes or situations,” says Dr. Kerry Mothersill, psychologist, professional practice lead (adult), Alberta Health Services Calgary Zone.

Worrying is a natural coping strategy with some benefit—if it occurs for very brief periods. “Worry can help serve as an alarm or alert people to negative situations that might occur,” explains Mothersill. “We can then apply constructive problem-solving strategies to help us find our way past the worry.”

But worrying for hours on end is a destructive pattern that, over time, can lead to generalized anxiety disorder.

“Going over the same topic again and again in your mind is not productive and does not lead to positive outcomes,” Mothersill says.

Worrying about “what-ifs” and what might go wrong, without taking action, can be habitual and hard to stop. It is a common, but ineffective process for problem-solving, Mothersill says. “It is important for people to be realistic, to accept that losses and challenges will occur in life, and that adapting to adversity and developing resiliency is critical to overcoming these challenges.”

— Kathryn Ward

Wrestling your worries
  1. Identify what you are worrying about 
  2. Work out steps to move forward 
  3. Limit the time you allow yourself to worry 
  4. Learn a “mindfulness” strategy 
  5. Focus on what’s going on today, not future “what-ifs” or negative past events 
  6. Try relaxation and exercise. Physical exercise helps ease the physiological effects of worry (muscle tension, difficulty concentrating, irritability and insomnia). Meditation helps with mindfulness 
  7. Deal with any tendencies toward “negative forecasting” (thinking the worst will happen). In the past year, how many of your worries came true? 
  8. Get professional help if worry continues for long periods, if it gets in the way of socializing, parenting, relationships, or if you’re experiencing physical symptoms.