Coping With Worry

by Tom Horvath, PhD

image of eggs in a carton with faces drawn on them to conceptualize coping with worryIt seems that almost everyone worries at times. We can think about a problem over and over and not make any progress. Ineffective strategies for worry include telling ourselves to “just stop,” and looking for guarantees or certainty when they are not available. Very little is guaranteed in life, and yet somehow we keep moving forward.

Worry can be considered a problem-solving effort that is not working well because we are focused on the wrong parts of the problem. Most problems have aspects that 1) can be dealt with now or cannot be dealt with until later; 2) are under our control or not under our control; and 3) are more important or less important. If you focus your thinking on aspects of a problem that can only be dealt with later, are out of your control, or are not that important, you are going to waste much time and energy. You won’t feel very good either!

Some Strategies for Coping With Worry

Effective problem-solving focuses on the opposite: What can I address now? What is under my control? What is most important? We can appreciate ourselves when we focus on problems in this way, because the problem is probably worth solving (or improving). If we don’t focus on our problems, how will positive change occur? As we make actual progress our anxiety (worry) will decrease.

When we are focused on a significant problem, we can expect that it might take time to solve it. Setting aside time daily or regularly would be a worthwhile option. Taking notes at that time could be helpful. At other times we can remind ourselves to stay focused on the other issues in our lives (you have some, right?) and save our worrying until the time dedicated for it.

You might conduct your own worry audit: In the last few days or week, to what extent have you 1) focused on issues (or aspects of issues) that cannot be dealt with until later? 2) Are not under your control? 3) Are not the most important issues? 4) Looked for certainty or a guarantee when there isn’t going to be one?

When you find yourself worrying, these are the questions to ask. If you can make progress with worry, then you are also probably less likely to engage in problematic addictive behavior.

If you or a loved one are interested in learning more about coping with worry, our individual therapy services could be a good fit. Please don’t hesitate to reach out – we’re here to help.

(adapted from the work of Scott Waltman,

You might also be interested in: Coping with Grief