How Does Worrying Affect the Body–and What to Do About It |

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We all worry from time to time–about people in our lives, stressful situations, and/or the future. But if it becomes a pattern in your everyday thoughts, you could be setting yourself up for some serious health issues. 

If you’ve ever wondered, “How does worrying affect the body?” (and perhaps worried about it), you’re in the right place. In this article, you’ll learn how it can affect your health, and explore some science-backed stress management activities to help you feel more at ease.

How does worrying affect the body?

Your mind and body often don’t distinguish between past or future concerns and real, immediate threats. 

This misperception triggers the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline–as much as nine times their normal amount–setting off a cascade of physiological responses designed for “fight or flight.”

In the short term, the most noticeable effects of worrying on your health are:

  • Faster heart rate 
  • Tense muscles 
  • Quicker, more shallow breathing 
  • Increased alertness

These reactions can be life-saving in an actually dangerous situation. But over time, frequent activation of the body’s stress response can contribute to:

  • Inflammation throughout the body, potentially leading to a multitude of problems including arthritis and heart disease
  • High blood pressure, which can damage the heart and arteries over time, increasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases
  • Increased blood sugar and triglycerides, which contribute to diabetes and heart disease via prolonged cortisol exposure
  • Digestive disorders, since stress can negatively affect gut health, potentially causing conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Weakened immune function, leading to recurring infections 
  • Chronic conditions, such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, due to heightened cortisol levels and nervous system sensitization 
  • Sleeping problems, since worrying can disrupt your body’s internal clock
  • Mental health issues like anxiety and depression, due to worry’s potential to change brain chemistry

But don’t let this list of potential health problems give you more cause to fret. Understanding the impact of worrying is the first step towards managing it and living a more peaceful life. 

From there, you can employ tested stress management tools to replace anxiety with more calm and serenity.

Stress management activities to counteract worrying

Has anyone ever told you to simply stop thinking about what’s bothering you? While that may be a well-intended sentiment, as you likely know, breaking the worry cycle is not that simple.

Managing worry requires a proactive approach, incorporating strategic techniques that target both the mind and body. Here are some excellent options to get you on track towards peace.


Regular exercise is a powerful tool against worry, offering numerous benefits:

  • Endorphin release, the body’s natural mood lifters and pain killers
  • Reduced cortisol levels, helping you feel less stressed
  • Diminished muscle tension
  • Healthier heart rate and digestion
  • Mental clarity, as exercise offers a break from whatever you’re worried about
  • Enhanced cognitive function and flexibility, helping you problem-solve better and see things differently
  • Improved sleep, which is essential for soothing the body’s stress response

Whether it’s a brisk walk in the park, dance class, or yoga session, find an activity you enjoy and make it a habit for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

Progressive muscle relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation helps you reduce stress by progressively tensing and then relaxing each muscle group. It’s especially beneficial for soothing your mind and body right before bed.

This simple practice can:

  • Ease symptoms of stress by directly relieving muscle tightness and promoting a state of calm
  • Enhance self-awareness by increasing recognition of your bodily stress signals
  • Calm the mind by shifting focus from worries to physical sensations
  • Improve sleep by inducing deep relaxation

Cognitive behavioral strategies

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) offers tools to tackle worry’s impact on thoughts and reactions, paving the way for a clearer perspective and healthier stress response. Some key CBT techniques include:

  • Journaling: Write about your experiences to process thoughts and feelings, and make worries more manageable–and solutions easier to spot.
  • Reframing negative thoughts: Shift unhelpful thought patterns to more positive ones by asking how you might view the situation differently.
  • Setting aside “worry time”: Designate a period of time to worry each day. This helps you learn to confine fretting to a specific, shorter time period, reducing the impact of stress.

Mindfulness and meditation

Mindfulness and meditation are powerful tools for combating worry. They both teach you to focus on the present moment, rather than getting caught up in concerns about the past or future. 

Simple techniques–such as deep breathing exercises or guided imagery–can lower cortisol levels and help:

  • Clear the mind
  • Reduce stress
  • Improve emotional resilience
  • Alleviate physical symptoms of stress like muscle tension, body aches, rapid heartbeat, and digestive issues

Start with a short five-minute mindfulness meditation each morning. And when you notice the worry starting to spiral again, take a deep breath and refocus your attention on physical sensations or your surroundings.

Art and creative expression

Creative activities can be incredibly therapeutic. The focus required for artistic expression helps move your mind away from stressors, allowing for a form of conscious relaxation. 

These activities also offer a productive outlet for expressing your feelings. Some options to consider include:

  • Painting
  • Drawing
  • Writing stories or poetry
  • Coloring in a coloring book
  • Playing music 


Essential oils used with a diffuser, inhaler, or in the bath can help you find a state of tranquility and well-being. These oils help diminish the stress response, decreasing cortisol levels and improving sleep.

Some oils known for their relaxing effects are:

  • Lavender
  • Chamomile
  • Sandalwood

Nature therapy

Spending time in nature can be profoundly calming. The tranquility of green spaces naturally helps reduce stress and improve mood. And adding the element of physical movement can further clear your mind and support your health. 


  • Gardening
  • Earthing, or touching your bare feet to the earth
  • Hiking
  • Taking a walk in a local park

Other lifestyle adjustments

Sometimes, small changes in your daily routine can make a big difference in managing worry. Here are some recommendations:

  • Prioritize sleep. Establish a relaxing bedtime routine and aim for 7-9 hours of rest per night. Quality sleep reduces cortisol levels and eases stress symptoms, supporting a calmer mindset.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol. These substances can heighten anxiety and disrupt sleep, exacerbating stress.
  • Embrace your hobbies. Hobbies redirect your thoughts away from stress and can help you feel calmer and happier. So make time for activities you enjoy. 
  • Get support. Connect with loved ones for comfort and a sense of belonging.

Knowing how worrying affects the body and utilizing stress management activities are crucial steps toward living a happier, healthier, more peaceful life. But if you find you’re still jumping on the anxiety train often, don’t beat yourself up. Worrying is a learned habit, and while it can be unlearned, doing so can take time.

Use the above stress relievers to retrain your brain to focus on the present, and celebrate moments when you’re feeling more relaxed. You’ll be well on your way to putting that spiral of worry to rest–for good.


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