5 Questions to Get You Unstuck from Your Worries

By Steve Calechman
April 27, 2023

Worrying has its place, whether it’s about a bear, a runaway train, or job security. The brain is built for such stuff; it has more sensitivity for bad events than good ones, upping the chances for a person’s survival. But constant worrying, the ruminating kind, isn’t so positive. The challenge is that it’s easy to do, since information and images, and chances to self-scrutinize, are constantly available.

The incessant nature of worrying has the brain pumping out stress hormones. That flood of hormones increases the size of the amygdala, the section of the brain that regulates mood and contributes to the fight-flight-or-freeze response. It decreases the hippocampus, the part of the brain that distinguishes memories. In this dynamic, possible threats, however miniscule, feel like actual threats. “You’re overwhelmed by the limbic reaction,” says Jeff Bostic, M.D., psychiatrist at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. “The brain cells are more attuned to danger, and they take over. You’re perpetually on guard.”

You’re also in a groove, and since that’s formed by a routine, it can be hard to get out of. Asking yourself questions can upend the cycle. They might not lead to the answer. “It’s usually not that easy,” says Robyn Landow, Ph.D., a New York City psychologist. But they can help get you to an answer, which means you’re back in control and can strategize. The following five questions might help when you’re feeling stuck: