It's been said by psych professionals from varying schools that the amount we worry about the amount we worry may be more harmful to us than the individual stresses themselves.
I know, very meta, but the ways worrying affects the body is a serious concern that we should, well, worry about more than we do.
I know I'm very guilty of overthinking even the most passive of exchanges, which is really just a fancy way of saying I stress about really insignificant things from time to time.
Doubt, excessive stress, fear — all of these negative emotions aren't just bad because they make us feel icky, science says they actually have deleterious effects on our physical health. Essentially, worrying more than is necessary can, and does, make us sick.
So, how do we combat the very human emotions of stress and worry? They are natural reactions that aren't all bad, after all, stress is our conscience telling us we can't neglect a particular aspect of life that may need our attention, but dwelling on those thoughts is what makes stress unhealthy.
Let's take a look at three serious ways worry affects us physically, and see what we can do to curb our collective neuroticism.
1. Worry forces you into fight or flight mode.
This isn't a terrible response; it's natural, but the problem comes when we linger in that space between flight and flight, wondering what to do.
Renowned primatologist Robert Sapolsky provides some insight into our primal response to stress and its effects on our bodies in his book, "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers." The difference between us and zebras? They either run or get eaten, they don't spend time worrying about how they will react to that lion hunting them down.
All that adrenaline coursing through your veins keeps you up at night, stops you from getting restful sleep and generally wears you down mentally.
Functioning in a constantly exhausted state leads to further negative side effects. The stress monster just digs deeper into your life and makes itself at home there.
Reduce This Stress By: Being more decisive! Remember that you can only make one decision; once you've weighed the pros and cons, make a choice and back it because, regardless of that choice, you could spend forever wondering what would have happened if you chose differently. T
his is not healthy, and it's definitely not zebra behavior.
2. Daily fight or flight mode is called anxiety, and anxiety is a silent killer.
When the body's sympathetic nervous system releases the stress hormone cortisol in response to, yeah, stress, it can impact triglyceride levels, blood sugar levels and have serious effects on your hormones.
Anyone who's ever gone through puberty, taken birth control or suffered a mid-life crisis could attest to the fact that hormonal imbalances can f*ck you up good.
Hormonal imbalances are also related to other psychological stresses, such as depression, insomnia and a host of other terrible problems that affect both your mind and body.
It's crazy, but true; simply ruminating on your checking account balance too frequently can contribute to all of those things.
Reduce This Stress By: Making a list of what is concerning you, then turn as many of those concerns as possible into actionable items.
Once you see that there are things you can do about your worries, like prioritizing an AM gym sesh so you stop stressing about never making it there, it will be easier to breathe knowing that you are truly in control of many of those nagging worries.
You have the power to make them go away! If there are stresses you can't control, see our next section, please.
3. Unchecked worry can lead to heart attacks, belly fat, short-term memory loss and so much more.
Pretty much all things you'd rather not deal with if your life, I'm guessing? Excessive release of cortisol has been linked to storage of body fat, particularly in the abdomen, general physical tension which can lead to body misalignment and poor posture, heart attacks and more.
Think about it: All that extra adrenaline (read: fuel) has to go somewhere, right? So, it puts a lot of your body's systems into overdrive.
Reduce This Stress By: If there really are thoughts you can't stop having, consider speaking to a mental health professional. They are trained to help you develop coping strategies, and they see people in your exact situation every damn day.
There's no shame in reaching out for some help and world perspective from a psych, and there are so many different types of therapies and medications out there that just taking the first step and connecting with an MD might be all you need to get your chronic worry or anxiety under control.
Mental Health America is a great online portal to start your search if you don't know where to turn, but a recommendation from a trusted friend or family member really can't be beaten.