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.