The Draining Worry Habit and How to Overcome It

Image by amira_a (license).

“Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.”
Swedish Proverb

One of the most common and subtly – or not so subtly – destructive habits people get wrapped up in must be worrying.

It has certainly been one of my biggest issues.

I get a lot of emails from people feeling that they worry too much about work or their loved ones and they create create elaborate and negative scenarios in their minds. And it sucks so much energy from them.

In the past few years I have become pretty good at handling worry quickly when it pops up. And to keep it far from my mind most of the time.

And I’d like to share my most effective tips with all of you that may have this draining habit in your life. I truly hope you’ll find something that helps in this article.

Stay in the present moment and today.

Worries come from imagining how things will go terribly wrong sometime in the future. They become bigger as you spend time building elaborate scenarios in your mind. And can become even bigger as you replay that one bad event from your past over and over in your mind and fear that it will be your reality in the future this time too.

When you spend too much of your energy and time imagining the future or reliving the past then that often leads to a lot of worries.

So an important key to drastically less worries is to not spend more time than necessary there and to spend most of your time in the present moment and on this current day.

Two of the most powerful tips I use to do that are:

  • Just take care of today. When you start your day or when worries start to cloud your mind then sit down for a minute. Breathe. Then narrow your focus greatly. Don’t look forward because then you’ll see all the things you have to do to, for example, reach a goal. Instead, focus on just taking care of today. Nothing more. Tomorrow will come in time. And then you will take care of that today too.
  • Tell yourself: now I am… As I do something I simply tell myself this in my mind: Now I am X. For example, if I am brushing my teeth, then I tell myself: Now I am brushing my teeth. If am writing then I tell myself: Now I am writing. It is easy to drift away to the future or past. This phrase keeps me grounded in the present moment and in today.

Ask yourself: How many of the things you feared would happen in your life did actually happen?

Most things you fear will happen never happen. They are just monsters in your own mind. And if they happen then they will most often not be as painful or bad as you expected. Worrying is most often just a waste of time.

This is of course easy to say. But if you remind yourself of how little of what you feared throughout your life that has actually happened you can start to release more and more of that worry from your thoughts.

So whenever I am struck with worries, I ask myself this question and I remind myself of how little of the things that I have worried about over the years that have actually become real. I find that this most often calms me down.

Refocus your mind from the powerless worrying to how you can solve the situation.

To move out of worry I find it enormously helpful to just start moving and taking action to solve what I am concerned about.

And the simplest way to do so is to think for little while and to come up with one thing I can do to start solving this worry inducing situation. And then to start doing that in small steps to keep discomfort, fear and procrastination away until the situation is under control or not an issue anymore.

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About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehack, The Huffington Post and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Your words are so very true. I used to look at many things in life as one big picture and the fear of where to start or what to do would over whelm me. Now I take it a step at a time and it’s amazing how I get things accomplished much easier and much quicker. It is much easier to handle fear on a small scale than a large one.

    • Thank you for your comment, Claudia! Happy to hear that smaller steps have done wonders for you too.

  • A huge component to worry is the feeling of having little control over our lives. If we view life as “things just happen to me,” it becomes all too easy to assume those “things” are going to be bad.

    So now we’re completely at the mercy of this cruel world, powerless to do a damn thing about the bad luck and tough breaks we’ve been dealt.

    It’s all b.s. of course.

    We have complete control over our lives . . . if not in every circumstance, certainly in every response. To really conquer worry, we must understand that we shape the world around us.

    Know that your make your own world. Have faith in the choices you make. That is how you nip worry in the bud.


    • That is true, when we feel or think that we are powerless then worries become abundant and persistent. Thank you for adding that insight!

  • Nikki

    This is a habit I really need to overcome.
    I suffer from GAD and worry about everything. I worry about something that lasts for 5 minutes one month in advance! Very hard to shift this mentality!

    • Anonymous

      i just deicovered this blog, i am finding it very helpful, thanks for all these helpful hints

      i too suffer from GAD, but i m getting better everyday, simplifying life is helping me , a lot… thanks again

    • Thank you for sharing, I hope you will find ways that will truly help you out with the worrying.

  • justsomeguy

    Nikki, I’m with you.

    For me, using ones will/attitude to make a “mental shift” does not work.

    I have been a worrier since my earliest childhood memories. It is certainly a “draining” habit that has been bad for my health (and ultimately for my longevity). I have tried stress relief techniques and meditation – can not seem to stay with them. Exercise has always been a great outlet – but now I am middle-aged with various soft-tissue injuries/conditions that limit my exercise.
    Don’t know what the answer is. Many of my companion care clients with advanced dementia seem quite happy most of the time ;-)

    • Thank you for the comment and for sharing. I hope that you’ll find more ways to deal with the worry that are effective for you.

  • Worrying about the future is also a consequence of negative thinking. Learn to think more positively and you will instead be excited about future outcomes.

    Success is a great way to start a positive feedback loop with anticipation.

  • Hi Henrik,
    I just found your blog today. I’m having a great time reading through all your popular posts.
    I notice some commenters posting about having GAD. It seems to be a trait my family likes to pass down from generation to generation. I’m the most recent to inherit it.
    Recently though I’ve broken the curse. I think the worrying can be dealt with by training your mind and organizing your life in such a manner that the worries take care of themselves.

    You’re doing great work here. Obviously you help many people. Congratulations on your success.

  • I like the proverb at the beginning of the post… So true!!! Thanks for the post Henrik!

  • I strongly feel that worry is one of the causes of stress. It does not allow you to live your present, thus making way for a worst future.. Henrik, you have rightly said and I have experienced it for myself that if I hold myself in present I stop worrying and that makes my future better..

  • Jared

    I struggle with worry constantly. It’s debilitating when I let it overtake me, but it is often a subconscious struggle in my day to day life. When I turn the lights out, it overtakes my mind. I know that I always make the situation seem worse than it actually is, I even tell myself those very words, but still I struggle.

    In the end, worry is a self-fulfilling prophecy. I want to stop worrying so badly, I just don’t know how.

  • Very Beautiful Article Thanks For Posting, Liked The Proverb Which Is At beginning Of Post..

  • RobAlex

    The focus on today and taking small steps are good. The part about “how many things I feared happened” doesn’t work well for me because my life in the last 15 years has been so much worse than I could have imagined it. This includes a very sick chronically ill spouse – how bad that is I never would have imagined.
    My current main worry is looming bankruptcy. It is hard to focus on today when it feels like I’m in a canoe without a paddle floating slowly towards a waterfall. So far my attempts to let go of the worry and focus on today have not been successful.

    • Grace

      I was moved to say a prayer for you. Despite these difficulties, you sounded like a strong man. Do give yourself a big pat on your shoulder. I wonder if you are/could join a church/social support group where people can offer you some support (e.g. respite care, financial help, etc).

  • I’m a born pessimist, so worry comes naturally to me. Believe it or not, we born pessimists do have a place in this world. We are the ones corporations hire to keep companies from going over the cliff. Because we tend to see gloom and doom, we can help avert the consequences of bad company decisions. However, this can be a problem if it gets out of hand. I know this because I have worried about Y2k, the Mayan Calendar, and the fiscal cliff. Two out of three have not happened!

    • “I’m a born pessimist, so worry comes naturally to me.”

      I also have been thinking this. Now I think all people are born to feel good. So try and change your mind, it is possible.

  • Just found your blog, so happy I did. Your words are so true, and sometimes you have to se them infront of you to really understand, you have to be reminded how life works now and then, or for me, very often ;) Thank you for sharing and helping!

  • Your words ring true with me, and I used to worry a lot to be honest, I feel it also comes in times of regret and dishonesty (I’ve grown out of that, don’t worry!).

    As you say, trying to live in the moment is a great way to kick the habit, but even better to take action and face it. Great stuff! :)

  • I absolutely loved the concept of “Now I am…”.
    It’s so simple, yet powerful if you mean it.
    Worrying doesn’t get us anywhere, taking action does.
    Thanks for pointing that out once again, Henrik. :)