A Way Out Of Worry


It would seem that no matter what your lot, you have reason to worry right now. Trying times.

My mom friends and I often read each other’s tea leaves for signs of trouble with our kids. Over the years it’s become reflexive. We’ll get on the phone and before we check in about how the other is doing, we’ll volley back and forth with reports of each child. Books and articles will be recommended to manage each stage with the requisite care.

Recently, a dear friend texted a piece about the dangers of Covid boosters for children, urging me to read. My body refused. I texted her back: no recreational worrying. 

But who am I kidding. I totally do it. And I have taught my kids to worry too. I recall when my firstborn was a high school freshman. We had a meeting with her college counselor who brought up my daughter’s first “B.” She’d already fretted over it plenty.

“Just so you know. Your friends are not getting B’s.”

We had hired her to guide our daughter and provide some straight talk about the process. We didn’t anticipate her ramping up the anxiety about Jane’s future. I should have pushed back but instead, I said nothing. The idea of alienating her and not having professional advice was a much bigger worry back then.

Now that my sons are entering territory not previously covered by my perfectionist daughter—and it’s a lot of territory— fresh opportunities for handwringing abound. I have even caught myself storing it up and taking it out on other people. It’s time to do some work.

As luck would have it, Martha Beck focused on this very topic on her podcast The Gathering Pod, Episode #77. Because many of us worry for sport, I’ll share the takeaways and add my own two cents.


Why do we worry so much? 

Due to our negativity bias, we pay far more attention to what’s troubling. It’s how we survived back in caveman days. But that instinct can run amok. If you are holding onto all the negativity and then imagining all sorts of new ways that things could go wrong, it’s damaging.

What’s wrong with worrying when there’s so much to worry about? 

Because worry isn’t real. It’s the product of a little bit of observation and a whole lot of imagination plus the negativity bias. Worry doesn’t actually help anybody with anything. It doesn’t really even help people with situations that are really going on. It just increases anxiety.

If we don’t worry, how will we know what to do if the bad thing happens?

People who are in actual danger are not in a state of worry, they are in action. Fear based on a real threat doesn’t create a feeling, it calms us all the way down so we can mobilize. Think about the last time something truly awful happened. Were you calm or in a full freak out?

If you are afraid of something and there is no action, that’s just worry. It wears you down, disturbs your sleep, and destroys your health. We can worry ourselves sick. If you have a health issue that has resolved but you are still worried about it, that anxiety will sustain neuroplastic pain. You are literally telling your brain to hang onto pain that has already healed.

When you want to take action, worry will prevent good decision making. When your mind is in a worry state, it gets stuck in fight or flight. If you attempt any creative problem solving, it won’t work.

You have to first soothe yourself like you would a frightened child. Breathe, slow it down, snuggle up. Make tea. Whatever soothes you, do that. Move from left brain to right brain where your centered, creative perspective lies.

If worry is where our mind goes automatically, how do we stop?

First, observe. Watch your mind imagine an infinite number of things that could go wrong. Notice when you pose “what if” questions to yourself that become a parade of horribles. Tune in to how badly it makes you feel.

This is the most important step. Realize that the good things are no more unlikely to happen than the bad things.

Lastly, take the painful thoughts and turn them around, Byron Katie style.* Take the terrible list of “what ifs” and turn it into an awesome list.

What if, instead of feeling alone, I have all the support I need?

What if I already know exactly what to do next?

What if everything turns out even better than the best case scenario? 

Thinking through all the possible happy outcomes makes you feel infinitely better. Use your imagination for GOOD. That’s what it’s there for.

What is a quick strategy to take us out of worry?

Reduce your breathing rate. Slow down. Repeat: I am okay, I am okay, I am okay or whatever calming mantra you prefer. Remember, this is your one precious life. Don’t ruin it by filling your mind with worry.


I studied the above list and slept on it. The next morning, I set out for my run. I felt a heaviness in my body—worry about my youngest. He seems to be in a huge hurry to grow up, trying all the things his siblings did when they were much older. It’s been completely freaking me out.

I ticked down a new and improved list of “what ifs.” What if he is on the exact right path? What if he is doing exactly what he needs to do to figure out how to be in the world? What if I am totally equipped to handle it? What if it turns out better than I could ever have expected?

Much better. And the action I have to take? From this calm place, I am present and curious about what he is going through. My instincts are sharper here. MUCH BETTER.

If you move beyond worry and into the calm, creative part of your mind, you get the sense that it’s all going to be okay.



WRITING PROMPT: What causes you the most worry? How do you stop the cycle? What has helped?

Do my weekly stories come to your inbox? If not, you are invited to sign up and feel free to share. Click on and subscribe today. And if you like, come find me on the socials: @elizabethheise.writer on Instagram and @heiseelizabeth1 on Twitter. Thank you for joining me.

*I credit Byron Katie with completely shifting how I look at the world. I wrote about how to do The Work a few months ago: You can also go straight to her website at . It will transform your life for the better, guaranteed.