Self / 28.02.2015

How to stop worrying

By Zoë Folbigg
Worrying is widespread, but why? And what can we do about it?


We’re in the grip of an epidemic, spending our nights lying awake stressing over an endless list of concerns. But why do we worry so much – and can it ever be a good thing?

1 We’re more anxious than ever before

The epidemic of worrying is illustrated by a recent survey of 2000 people*, which found we typically spend two hours a day worrying – which amounts to an incredible five years and two months in an average lifetime – and that 45 per cent of us felt worrying had had a negative impact on our health. Psychologists, meanwhile, report more people being referred for treatment for worry-based anxiety problems than ever before.

2 Why do we worry?

It stems from our hunter-gatherer past, and the fight-or-flight reaction that we historically had in response to any threats. Because 21st-century living is a lot more comfortable, most of our threats are perceived – we don’t have to fight, or take flight, so we fret instead. ‘We worry as we try to either solve upcoming life problems, or go through all the possible outcomes of a future problem so we feel able to deal with every eventuality,’ says Professor Davey.

3 What do we fret about?

Interestingly, no matter how rich or poor, young or old we are, we all worry about the same things. ‘People tend to worry about finances, relationships, health and uncertain futures, and 75 per cent of our worries are about the present or future,’ says Professor Davey, although, understandably, worries about health grow more prevalent as we age. Most people worry at home (65 per cent) and more than half of those (55 per cent) worry in bed, says Professor Davey.

4 Why do some of us worry more?

‘Some people appear to be genetically predisposed to worry, which doesn’t mean they inevitably worry, but means they have to work harder to prevent worry taking over their life,’ says consultant clinical psychologist Emma Citron. Plus, she says, we’re 50 per cent more likely to suffer clinical anxiety if we have a family member with a mental health concern. There’s also an environmental aspect. ‘People’s worries reflect the economic, social or personal milieu of when they live. In hard times, those prone to worry may become clinically anxious more easily,’ says Citron.

5 How can we manage it?

‘Engage in activities that fill your time meaningfully,’ says Citron. ‘Building manageable exercise into your life tackles stress, too.’ Doing something you enjoy can also help. A study by Professor Davey and co-author Frances Meeten in the Clinical Psychology Review links worry to negative mood. ‘If you’re anxious or tired, you’re more likely to retrieve negative information from your memory to fuel continued worrying,’ says Professor Davey. ‘We use our mood to tell us if our worrying has been successful: a positive mood indicates we have resolved our worry, a negative mood suggests we have not, so we keep worrying.’ Perhaps the ‘don’t worry, be happy’ mantra should be the other way around.

Check out our top three tips to help you stop worrying for good
How to stop worrying
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How to stop worrying
We’re in the grip of an epidemic, spending our nights lying awake stressing over an endless list of concerns. But why are we worrying so much?
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