Stress and worry have become part of everyday life. Over 40 million American adults suffer from an anxiety disorder, and women are 60% more likely than men to experience an anxiety disorder over their lifetime, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Millions more struggle with day-to-day worries that don’t qualify as anxiety disorders but are still troublesome. So, how can we stop being worrywarts? Here’s what you need to know.
Worry vs. Anxiety: What’s the difference?
While worry is primarily a mental activity in which we think about our problems or fears, anxiety is more of an emotional response to a feared event, and feelings of doubt about our ability to cope. In contrast, anxiety becomes a mental health disorder when it becomes chronic and impacts your ability to function in daily life. Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and specific phobias.
How worry makes us sick
Stress responses like worry and anxiety are helpful warning signals that help prepare us to take action. According to stress researcher Robert Sapolsky, PhD, an animal’s stress response helps it survive a short-tem physical attack by maximizing its physical body for flight or fight. However, human beings turn on the same stress response for purely psychological reason and we often do not know how to turn off our response. Sapolksy says that ultimately our response becomes more damaging to our health and well-being than the stressor itself.
Four questions to ask yourself
– Whose problem is it? It’s common to worry about things that aren’t even your problem. If you are worrying about someone else’s future or choices, you are causing yourself unnecessary stress.
– What are things I can do about it? Write down a list of potential responses to the situation you are worried about. Worrying without taking action makes wastes mental and emotional energy and doesn’t change anything.
– How can I prepare to deal with this potential event? Do something to prepare for a worst-case scenario. Preparation is a more productive use of your time and energy than worrying.
– What is one thing I can do today? Worry can cloud our view of changing the things we can control. Choose one thing that you can commit to doing today to address your worry.
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