Listen, we all worry — though relative perspective can vary from day to day. I’m not a stress case, but, like everyone, I worry about a wide range of potential outcomes. On lucky days, I worry about inane things like whether the movie I want to see will be sold out or whether I can find the right pickles for the corned beef I’m making. But on the day that my father had a heart attack, I can’t remember anything but clasped hands and a sharp focus, as every inane concern immediately drained from my body and my worry took on a previously unrecognizable dimension. Worry is a natural part of life, though the nature and intensity of that worry is augmented by specific circumstances. A lot of us worry a lot of the time, but we still know real worry when we see it.
Regardless, it turns out that worrying too much — about anything — can be have real consequences, from physical health issues to the alienation of friends and family. According to a new study reported by Rebecca Greenfield over at the Atlantic Wire — “Science Says Start Worrying About Your Worrying” — specific symptoms can include an elevated heart rate, headaches, nausea, dizziness, and twitching. And, as anyone who has been truly agitated can recognize, worrying fosters an interior focus that makes one inaccessible to the people who want to help the most. And clearly, when your health and relationships take a hit, your sense of happiness and fulfillment is bound to plummet.
Writes Greenfield: “Worriers justify their mental obsessions claiming their anxious thoughts translate into real world progress. For example, people tend to worry about their families and friends. They think this magically improves their relationships. “The negative methods they use to cope–from over nurturing to extreme detachment–may be destructive,” the study finds. As worriers destroy their personal lives, they put themselves at risk for other un-fun health problems. Notice how your heart feels like its moving a million miles a minute as you obsess over tomorrow’s PowerPoint presentation?”
So the answer to this problem is to stop worrying so much. (Though there is some evidence that worrying a little is healthy, a sign of conscientiousness and a trait that propels individuals toward success.) But how do you stop excessive worry about the small stuff, especially when worrying is such an ingrained habit? How can you talk yourself out of all-consuming worry about the big stuff, when stress is unavoidable? It’s not easy. But, like any bad habit, excessive worry — especially about the small things you can’t control in everyday life — can be kicked. Figure out some healthy meditative practice — taking a long walk, calling a friend, making an elaborate meal — that diminishes your stress level. And remember: worrying about something doesn’t affect the outcome of the thing you’re worrying about; but it can have a serious, negative impact on your well being and happiness.