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How Worry Works (And What to Do About It)

Worry is generally regarded as a form of verbal mental problem solving about potentially negative future events. Normal worry is generally short-lived and leads to positive problem-solving behaviour. Worry becomes unhelpful when it is about several things, is very frequent, and is difficult to control or dismiss. Prolonged or frequent worry generates more anxiety and more worry, which may prevent positive thinking and action.

Worrying can be triggered by various things. Some triggers may be more obvious and linked to external things, like seeing something online or having to face an uncertain situation. Some triggers may be less obvious. These may be thoughts or images that seem to just pop into your head. An initial “What if…” question that comes to mind for no apparent reason, can even be a trigger for worrying.

People who describe themselves as chronic worriers are often disturbed that they seem to spend much of their waking hours worrying excessively about several different life circumstances. They do not understand why this activity continues. They often ask, “Why do I do it?” and “What keeps my worrying going?” There are two types of thoughts or beliefs about worry which work to maintain the worry, in a vicious cycle. These are negative beliefs about worrying, and positive beliefs about worrying. Unhelpful strategies such as avoidance and thought control also maintain worry.

In addition to the specific things people worry about, people may also worry about the fact that they are worrying. In this case, such worriers are often concerned that worrying is “bad” and may believe that they can not control their worry. They worry that it will take over their lives resulting in a loss of control. Holding onto these false beliefs about worrying makes worrying distressing and this causes a cycling effect and makes it worse. This can also happen with a belief that appears positive for instance, believing that the worry does good or is beneficial. It motivates or prepares me for the worst. Those are also false beliefs which keeps the worry active and strong.

Sometimes we avoid things that we fear like skipping an event because we are afraid of the outcome, or we try to avoid worry itself. Avoidance limits a person’s opportunity to have experiences that disconfirm their worries and their beliefs about worrying. In a sense, not confronting your worries keeps the worrying going. People who worry often attempt unsuccessfully to control their worrisome thoughts in several ways. These may include trying to suppress their worries, trying to reason with their worrisome thoughts, distracting themselves or thinking positively. These attempts at thought control rarely work, as trying to suppress a thought usually has the opposite effect of making that thought occur more, which in turn fuels the belief that worries are uncontrollable.

Strategies to Deal with Worry

Create a time to deal with your worry which should be the same time everyday and in the same place. Make this location as comfy as possible and schedule yourself about 20 minutes of time to think through what is distressing you. Write it down and ask yourself: Is there something I can do about this today? If the answer is yes, then follow the solution. If it is no, then it stays on your list to think through tomorrow, until there is a day that you can do something about it.

In the beginning of practicing a worry time, thoughts will still come up during other parts of your day. The comforting part about having a list is you are able to postpone your worry. Remind yourself that you have thought about this worry already or you will think about it depending on when your worry time is. As you train yourself that there is a time and place for your worrisome thoughts, your brain will stop reminding you of them throughout the day. You will find that you are more productive and creative. Back in control of your own thoughts.

The other part of dealing with worry is acceptance of uncertainty. We have seen this year that there are not any guarantees in life. Often, we try to use worry to try to control life, predict the future and prepare ourselves for the worst possible thing that can happen. The worrying helps foster the belief that you can control things. The reality is that worry makes things less predictable and more uncontrollable. Challenge yourself by asking how successful you have been by predicting the future, how helpful has your worry been and can you live with some of the uncertainties of life?

When you are intolerant of uncertainty, your mind tends to be focused on the future. An antidote to this style of thinking is to practice becoming more present focused and accepting of your current experience. That is, more mindful. How to accomplish this is to be aware of how you are doing both in your thoughts and your physical experiences. Acknowledging these thoughts and feelings, accept them for what they are, just thoughts and feelings. Then give yourself permission to allow your thoughts to flow without judgement. This will allow yourself to focus on the present situation instead of the worries.

I realise that writing these tips out and helping you understand what is happening when you worry is easier to do than to put the ideas into practice. That is where a registered psychotherapist comes into the picture. When you see a therapist, they help develop a plan that is tailored to you and your situation. Then we help you remove any obstacles in your path so that you can be worry free and enjoy peace. If you are ready to experience that, we would be honoured to help you. Please call for your appointment today.


Registered Psychotherapy


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