Let’s face it, we all have a lot to worry about. There are so many “What if…” possibilities in life and no one enjoys living with uncertainty. We worry that something bad might happen, we resist uncertainty (this is the reality we live in) and we believe our negative thoughts as if they were facts. We see failure as unacceptable and feel the need to solve everything in order not to worry. Sound familiar?
Many of us have positive beliefs about worry. IF we worry, we will somehow be safe and be more in control. The truth of the matter is that, well.. this isn’t true. Worrying doesn’t protect you or keep you safe. Worry serves a purpose and that is t leave you feeling on edge and anxious all the time. Long term this is exhausting for the body as it stay in anxiety mode for prolonger periods. Adrenalin is released and our bodies remain in fight/flight/freeze mode. We are keeping ourselves in constant ‘threat mode’.
Intolerance of uncertainty is the most common feature of worry. Worriers fear emotions and don’t process the meaning of events because they are “too much in their heads”.
How to alleviate worry
Decide whether your worry is real or hypothetical. A real problem is your car breaking down on the way to work. A hypothetical problem is a “what if?” type problem. It might happen but then again, it might not. You cannot do anything about a “what if” worry as it hasn’t happened yet. Focus on real worries by doing some problem solving and ignore the rest.
Stop believing that worry will keep you safe. Your worries will continue if you have positive beliefs around worrying.
Keep a thought diary
By writing a thought diary, you can become more self aware and self reflective. You will learn what triggers your worry and be better able to challenge your thinking. Thoughts aren’t facts and we all have errors in our thinking – times when our thoughts spiral into fear and negativity even when there is no evidence to support the thoughts
Catastrophising: this is where you think about the worst case scenario and drive yourself bonkers by creating these made-up scenarios in your head. Don’t do it to yourself. Anticipatory worry is often worse than the actual event that we fear.
Mind-Reading: Assuming we know what other people are thinking. Unless we have verbal confirmation, we can’t really tell what someone else is thinking. We are assuming they think like us and respond the same way we do. We also assume that their focus is the same as ours – these assumptions can be highly inaccurate.
Self criticism: You allow your inner bully to remind you of all your faults and why you are such a loser. Self criticism serves no good purpose.
A thought diary can help you identify your own errors in thinking. Awareness is the first step to reducing worry.
It’s equally important to understand the emotion attached to the worrying thoughts.
Where does your worry lead you?
Does it lead you to taking action and problem solving or to further rumination (unhelpful behaviour)?
Ask yourself the following questions:
What times and places are you most likely to worry?
Are there certain events that trigger your worry?
What feelings do you have right before you worry?
What are you predicting will happen that upsets you?
What do you tend to do right after you worry?
How did you feel then?
Set aside worry time
Worry time allows you to set aside worry until a specific time. When you do your worrying during the worry-time write them down. Recognize that your worries are limited and repetitious. For the rest of the time, jot down your worries to remind you but only worry about them during assigned worry time.
This can give you a greater sense of control over your worries.
Determine the worst outcome, most likely outcome and best outcome
We tend to hone in on negative outcomes but we often ignore other possibilities. Thus helps to take the emotional impact out of a worry – there are many possible outcomes, not just a negative one.
Tell yourself a story with possible positive outcomes too
Instead of worrying about your finances and considering going bankrupt, focus on budgeting, cutting down on unnecessary expenses and commit to saving a little each month. Think of possible role models who have achieved what you wish to achieve.
List the evidence that something really bad is going to happen
If you want to be in a relationship but believe it will never happen for you, examine the evidence of this thought. The fact that you are currently alone isn’t evidence that you will always be alone.
Test your predictions
Let’s see if the future is really as bad as you think. Some common worries:
I won’t get any sleep. Test it out: I didn’t sleep well but got some sleep. I got through the day despite being tired.
I will fail that test. Test it out: I got motivated and studied, I did okay, not great but well enough.
I will embarrass myself at the party. I went in with a smile and talked to a few people. I am glad I went.
Angela will be mad at me. Test it out: Angela wasn’t mad at me, she has her own issues at the moment.
Put predictions into perspective
Use realistic probabilities – how likely is something going to happen?
Think of how you could cope if the bad outcome actually happens
This is where you problem solve and empower yourself so as not to feel completely helpless in your feared situation. Worries overestimate the threat and underestimate their ability to cope. Weigh up the costs and benefits rationally.
What advice would you give a friend?
This is a good question to ask as it opens up different perspectives. We tend to be more emotionally balanced when it comes to others. Use this process on yourself.
Show yourself why this is not really a problem
This powerful technique forces you to look at the potential problem in a whole new way. List all the reasons that you can think of for this worry not to be a problem.
Worry is like a rocking chair – it gives you something to do but it doesn’t get you anywhere. If you aren’t thinking about problem solving, you are worrying needlessly.
We have thousands of thoughts a day and most of them are nonsense. Learn to distance yourself from worry. Stop worrying and start living!