Are you constantly worried about finances, work, and your relationships? Here's how to tell the difference between "normal" worry and generalized anxiety disorder—and conquer your anxious thoughts once and for all.
This article originally appeared on Health
Q: How can I stop worrying about everything?
Sorry to sound like a downer, but you can't completely stop worrying, because it's a normal part of life. Now, define "everything"—are you worrying about a big range of topics (deadlines, finances, your relationship, parents, world peace...) so much that it's interfering with your work or family life? Do your thoughts make you miserable a good deal of the time? That's not garden-variety worry—it's generalized anxiety disorder.
There are things you can do to decrease the amount of anxiety you have. Exercise is enormously helpful. I don't mean just going for a leisurely stroll; doing 30 minutes of vigorous exercise four or five times a week has been shown to decrease anxiety overall. That may sound like a lot, but it's worth investing the time for your mental (and physical!) health.
Also, set aside a designated worry time, 15 minutes a day, to write down a list of things keeping you up at night. That way, anytime you find yourself fretting during the rest of your day, you can tell yourself to save it for that scheduled period. Another method I recommend is to not "answer" your worries: Say to yourself, "Have I done all the problem-solving I can regarding this concern?" If the answer is yes, then say, "This is just anxiety," and stop responding to the worry. Identifying it and then letting it be puts you back in control, instead of allowing it to control you.
If talking yourself out of it isn't working, try breaking the cycle with something physically relaxing and distracting, like a warm bath. I also suggest exploring mindfulness, a meditative practice that has been found to ease stress and improve mood by helping you train yourself to recognize unproductive thoughts and take away their significance. You can learn it on your own by downloading an app or audio tutorial online, or you can study with a group or instructor. Being mindful is a wonderful tool for managing your worries in the long run.
Gail Saltz, MD, is a psychiatrist and television commentator in New York City who specializes in health, sex, and relationships.