Worrying is a part of human nature. Our minds consider the “worst-case scenario” from an evolutionary perspective to protect us from danger, but in reality, these worries can be all-consuming, and take away from our ability to live in the moment and enjoy it.
Consider a typical female living in New Jersey. Let’s call her Kathy. She’s 37 years old and has two kids who are 4 and 9 years old. She has a job, gets home every day around 5 PM, spends time with her family, and prepares for her next day.
On the surface, she is happy and has everything she needs, but she worries constantly. She thinks about her health, and what would happen to her family if she suddenly got sick and passed away. She thinks about her kids going to school in an age where school shootings are the norm. She thinks about how attractive she feels and often wonders if her husband, who she met at age 22, still finds her beautiful. She worries about money. Will they have enough to send the kids to the colleges they want? Will they be able to retire when they want?
These thoughts feel endless and unstoppable, often keeping her up at night. But there are actionable steps one can take to help manage such worries.
Don’t get caught up in common cognitive distortions
Cognitive distortions are essentially tricks that the brain plays on us, making our thinking unhelpful. For example, Kathy is engaging in mind-reading by assuming her husband may not find her beautiful anymore, and catastrophizing by imagining that she’ll suddenly fall ill and leave her family to fend for themselves. Identifying such cognitive distortions may help her manage them more effectively. Knowing that these are patterns that our brains typically go to automatically may help to control them.
Separate productive worry from unproductive worry
Productive worry might cause you to make a plan, or prepare in a way that’s logical and helpful. Unproductive worry, on the other hand, is worrying for the sake of worrying.
Worrying about a presentation the next day could be considered productive worry. But worrying for an extended period of time or imagining all possible outcomes may bring it into the realm of unproductive worry.
Worrying about how attractive her husband finds her could be considered unproductive, as she only has so much control over another person’s perception. To make this more productive she could speak to her husband about her concerns.
If Kathy finds herself engaging in unproductive worry every day, she could strategize and assign herself a 20-minute period of the day where she allows her mind to unproductively ruminate about all of her worries that won’t lead to a plan, but then force herself to stop.
Shift your cognitive set
When you find yourself in a waiting game for something that you worry about, be it an upcoming assessment, doctor's appointment, or social event, shift your cognitive set and do an action that may better your life in some other area. For example, focus on your physical and mental health to help you distract yourself from the constant worry.
Engage in self-care, by yourself or with a partner
Self-care is an important part of reducing fear. Come up with a set of potential distress tolerance skills. This could include taking a bath, watching a movie together, having coffee with a friend, going to a yoga class, or going out to dinner. Effectively communicate to your partner that you need comfort or validation because you are feeling particularly anxious.
Worrying is unfortunately inevitable, but taking tangible steps to manage your worry can lessen how much these worries impact your emotional well-being, and help you feel more in control of your life.
*Lukin Center Psychotherapy is now in 5 convenient locations : Ridgewood, Hoboken, NYC, Jersey City and newly opened Englewood (163 Engle Street, Building 1A, Englewood, NJ).
Konstantin Lukin, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in Ridgewood, Hoboken, NYC, Jersey City and newly opened Englewood. He has extensive clinical and research experience spanning individuals of all ages, in both inpatient and outpatient settings. He specializes in men’s issues, couple’s counseling, and relationship problems. His therapeutic approach focuses on providing support and practical feedback to help patients effectively address personal challenges. He integrates complementary modalities and techniques to offer a personalized approach tailored to each patient. He has been trained in cognitive-behavioral, dialectical behavior, schema-focused, and emotionally focused therapy, and has also been involved with research projects throughout his career, including two National Institute of Mental Health-funded studies. He is a member of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, New Jersey Psychological Association, Northeast Counties Association of Psychologists, New York State Psychological Association, The International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy, The New York Center for Emotionally Focused Therapy, the International OCD Foundation, the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACSB) and a regular contributor to Psychology Today.