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Can't Stop Worrying? Here's How To Let It Go, According To Mental Health Experts

Sarah Regan
September 1, 2023
Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor
By Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, and a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.
September 1, 2023
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It's perfectly normal, and even natural, to worry. However, when worrying becomes all-consuming and starts impacting your everyday life, you begin feeling an acute need for relief—from the thoughts, the feelings, and anything else you just can't seem to shake.

So how do you actually stop worrying? We asked mental health experts—here's what they had to say.

Why do we worry, anyway?

Worry, as a noun, is defined in the Oxford dictionary as, "A state of anxiety and uncertainty over actual or potential problems." As a verb, it's defined as, "To give way to anxiety or unease; allowing one's mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles."

And we can think about worrying as a sort of maladaptive coping mechanism, at least when it's left unchecked. As clinical psychologist Kaitlin Harkess, Ph.D., tells mindbodygreen, "worrying" does have some practical roots. After all, how would we accomplish anything if we didn't have a little stress or concern pointing us in the direction of what we want?

"As a species, we would not be where we are today without problem-solving—the ability to look to the past, which some might call rumination, or look forward, which some might call worry," Harkess explains, adding, "These are things that actually allowed us to learn from things that have happened to us and anticipate what could happen."

In this way, the right amount of worry can help us with problem-solving and planning ahead. But when we move out of problem-solving and into catastrophizing, spiraling, and dwelling on problems, that's when worrying becomes unhelpful. And while it happens to the best of us, the adage that "worrying doesn't solve today's problems, it just takes away today's peace," couldn't be more true.

There are a number of reasons you might be prone to worrying or overthinking, whether you're experiencing heightened emotions, you observed your parents worrying a lot as you grew up, or you're dealing with mental health concerns like depression, anxiety, or PTSD.

The key is being able to bring yourself out of the worrying head space, and back into problem-solving mode. "When we move out of the zone where we can actually do anything to support ourselves, that's often when we would label the cognitive experience as a worry," Harkess notes.

How worrying impacts your health

It's no secret that stress has a big impact on our health, and if you're constantly worrying, it could start to take a toll on you mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

As functional medicine doctor Isaac Eliaz, M.D., M.S., LAc, previously wrote for mindbodygreen, a whole host of stress hormones are released when we're tense about something. When we're worrying, our bodies can't differentiate between a real threat and a perceived threat, so we enter fight-or-flight, and we can feel that stress manifesting in our bodies as a faster heartbeat, tensed muscles, and weakened immunity.

When left unmanaged over time, Eliaz explains, chronic stress can lead to the development of other problems like stomach ulcers, stroke, asthma, and heart disease. He adds that many health care professionals also consider chronic stress a significant risk factor for serious illnesses like cancer and heart attacks. 

In short, when you don't feel good mentally as a result of chronic worrying, it's very hard for your body to ignore it and carry on with all its normal functions (like keeping your immune system strong or bringing your heart rate back to baseline, for instance).

11 ways to stop worrying


Shift your emotional tone

When you can't stop worrying, one thing you can do, according to Harkess, is shift the tone around what you're worrying about. For example, she says, if you find yourself about to say, "I'm so worried about this meeting, I have no idea how it's going to go," try saying it—or even singing it—in a different tone.

Whether you put on a singsong voice or do your best Donald Duck impression, Harkess says, you're helping your brain to change the emotional associations you have with that word.


Schedule worry time

It might sound counterintuitive to give yourself permission to worry, but according to Harkess, focusing on not worrying is still wiring those same worrisome pathways in the brain. You're much better off, she says, acknowledging that worrying is simply something our brains do—and further, that your worries are not hard-and-fast truths about who you are or what's going to happen.

What that in mind, she says, giving yourself a "worry window" for the day can help you focus on other things in the meantime. Say your "worry time" is 6 p.m., for example. Until 6 p.m. rolls around, you can remind yourself that you have time to worry later. Then, when it actually is worry time, Harkess says, you'll often find you don't actually feel compelled to dwell on your long list of worries.

In this way, she adds, you can start to learn how to disengage from worrisome thoughts without trying to suppress or control them.


Cultivate self-trust

Many of our worries are about things that haven't even happened—and may never happen. We anticipate the worst, fret that things will go wrong, and cling to a deep need for certainty and control when it comes to the future.

The answer here is trust in yourself to be able to handle what life throws at you. As Harkess tells mindbodygreen, even if the worst case scenario were to happen (which it probably won't), you will be able to see yourself through it.

After all, you've made it this far. There have been things that worried you in the past that you were able to handle when they actually arose, and the same can be said about anything else that could be headed your way. "Have that reassurance to remind yourself, 'I have always gotten through things. I trust myself to handle this and figure this out when the time comes,'" Harkess adds.


Learn to observe your thoughts

A big part of shifting any mental pattern you want to change is mindfulness, or tapping into your "observing self." As Harkess explains, it's the part of you that "can witness yourself thinking, worrying, and know those thoughts are separate from you," adding the more you can tap into and remember that, the less intensity your worries will have.

To that end, she says, practices like meditation, yoga, or even spending time in nature can be a good way to separate your true self from your mental chatter and worrisome thoughts. "Any ways of practicing tapping into that 'sense of ourselves beyond ourselves' are really helpful," Harkess adds.


Let go of the need to control everything

If we could control everything, there would be nothing to worry about—and wouldn't that be nice? But alas, we cannot, and accepting that, according to Harkess, is an important piece of the worrying puzzle.

It draws to mind the classic serenity prayer: change what we can, accept the things we cannot change, and know the difference between the two.

"The concept of acceptance—a willingness to hold the fact that we can't necessarily plan for everything or anticipate everything or control everything," Harkess says, goes a long way with worrying.


Move your body

According to Harkess, not only will exercising help take your mind off whatever it is that's got you worried, but it can also help release feel-good endorphins.

"Neuro-chemically, physical activity does change how our brain is functioning, and moving our bodies is really important," she explains, adding that while it's hard to motivate yourself to work out when you're feeling overwhelmed, finding any type of gentle movement is "vital"—even if you're just taking a walk.



We've already touched on the idea of detachment from your thoughts and worries and learning to observe your mind. To that end, meditation gets its own callout, because it's one of the best ways to start detaching from your thoughts and getting back in touch with your worry-free self.

There are plenty of meditations you can try to find one that works for you, and Harkess personally recommends a meditation called the "Leaves on a Stream" meditation if you're dealing with worrying thoughts.

All you have to do is imagine you're sitting in front of a stream that has leaves gently drifting by. When worrisome thoughts pop up, Harkess explains, you attach the thought to one of those leaves and let it roll on down the stream. You saw it, it was there, and now it's floating on by.

"You're placing each of your thoughts or worries or physical sensations onto a leaf and watching it float past and practicing detachment," she adds.


Journal about your worries

Similar to scheduling worry time, you can use a journal to get your worries out in a helpful way. As clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., previously wrote for mindbodygreen, "Take care to journal in a free, noncritical way that allows you to practice not being in control. To remind yourself to let go of control, make plenty of space for random thoughts, spelling errors, and wild imaginings."

Manly adds that the more you do this, the more you'll start to notice the changes you're making over time when you go back and read about your old worries. "The more you reflect on the positive results you are noticing, the more your positive changes will take hold," she adds.


Do things you enjoy

Sounds simple, but there's always more room in your life for pleasure, joy, and love, especially if worrisome thoughts have been taking up too much space. As psychology expert and health coach Stephanie Catahan previously wrote for mindbodygreen, "If overthinking is paired with worry, anxiety, and depressing thoughts, using joy can be a great antidote."

Make time to engage with your favorite activities that get you outside of your own head, whether that's going for a walk with your dog or calling a friend, she says, adding, "If you don't know what brings you joy, it is a worthwhile journey to find out what does."


Give yourself grace

Nobody is perfect, and everyone is susceptible to worries and fears. But according to licensed therapist Cynthia Siadat, LCSW, overthinking is not a weakness. "It has served us throughout our lives, and when it has limited our ability to live fulfilling lives, all that means is that it isn't the right tool for the task at hand and that we need to find and try a different tool," she explains.

So, with that said, give yourself grace, release the need to be perfect, and remember that it's OK to not feel OK.


Talk to a mental health professional

Last but never least, if you feel like your worries are taking over your life and impacting your well-being negatively, it is always worthwhile to seek the guidance and support of a professional, whether it be a traditional therapist or even a mentor or spiritual coach.

Find someone you can trust who knows how to hold the space of worry in a productive and helpful way. There is nothing wrong with asking for help, especially when you feel like you're drowning in your worries on your own.


Why is it so hard for me to stop worrying?

There are a number of reasons that can give someone a tendency to worry, such as past trauma, mental health conditions, heightened emotions (especially stress), or even witnessing a lot of worrying in your household growing up.

How do I train my brain to stop anxiety?

You can do a variety of things to stop worrying, such as cultivating mindfulness, scheduling "worry time," and leaning on healthy coping mechanisms and strategies. If it becomes unmanageable, that's when you'll want to seek the help of a professional.

The takeaway

We all deal with worry, so it's important to have a tool belt of coping mechanisms to help you sort through the mental chatter and reclaim some peace. While it can take time, patience, and a good amount of mindfulness to get a worrying mind back on track, it's not impossible—and you'll feel so much relief when you do.

Sarah Regan author page.
Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor

Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.