Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.

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Am Fam Physician. 2006;73(6):1057-1058

See related article on patients with excessive worry.

Does everyone worry?

Yes. Worry is a normal response when you are unsure about things. It may help you feel more prepared in the short run. It may even help you feel some control over what could happen. Worry may “work” at the time, but it can become a bad habit.

When is worry a problem?

When worry becomes a habit that you can’t control, it can make life miserable. Worries can get in the way of your daily life and disturb your sleep.

What kinds of worry are common?

Some people worry about having a serious illness when their doctor is sure they do not. Some worry that symptoms of panic will make them pass out, lose control, “go crazy,” or have a heart attack. Others worry about looking foolish in social situations.

Some people seem to worry almost every day. They worry about daily troubles, conflicts with others, safety of loved ones, or almost anything. For them, worry is a way of life. Worries that make you feel guilty, feel bad about yourself, or feel hopeless may be signs of depression. Your family doctor can help you figure out if you have a problem with worry.

Can treatment help serious worrying?

Treatment helps most people who worry too much. Sometimes medications can help. Sometimes counseling that helps change your beliefs and habits can help. Work closely with your doctor to find the treatment that is best for you. Be patient—sometimes it can take months to figure things out and learn new skills.

What can I do about worrying?

  • Remember that nearly all worries are only thoughts.

  • Remember that the bad things that we worry about hardly ever happen. Worry won’t protect us from the rare bad things that do happen.

  • Stop trying to get rid of worries. It doesn’t work, and it may make things worse. Instead, accept worry, but don’t give it your full attention whenever you think of it.

  • Use “worry periods” for 10 to 20 minutes at set times during the day. Give your worries your full attention only at these times. At other times, remind yourself to save thinking about a worry until your next worry period.

  • Learn “mindfulness meditation.” This skill is simple, but not easy. As you get better at staying in the moment, focusing on your breathing, and accepting your thoughts as “just thinking,” your worries will not be so troubling.

  • Find out what things calm you. Try doing things like exercise, relaxation, massage, prayer, yoga, music, journal writing, or taking a hot bath. Do it to calm yourself—not to get rid of your worries.

  • Being sure about things is only a feeling—it is rarely real. Practice noticing and accepting the many things each day that you can’t feel certain about and can’t control.

  • Stop checking the Internet, your body, or the opinions of others to reassure yourself. The relief you feel will not last, and you will just feel the need to check more. Sometimes your checking can scare you more.

  • Ask yourself: Am I making too much of the risk? Will this even matter next week? What would I be feeling if I were not worrying? Am I giving in to my worries instead of managing them? What can I do instead of worrying more?

Where can I learn more about worry?

You can learn more at the Anxiety Disorders Association of America’s Web site:http://www.adaa.org.

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