Chronic Worry

Are You a Worrier?

Do you worry a lot?  Do you have difficulty turning off your thoughts, quieting your mind?  When you’re worried about something, do you keep going over and over the facts, trying to figure out why something occurred (or didn’t)?  [“What if I did something wrong?”  “What if I flub my presentation tomorrow?”  “What if this headache is something serious?”]  What if, what if, what if. . . .

If you’re a chronic worrier you probably have other signs of your worry problem.  Typical symptoms that accompany worry include:  irritability; insomnia; muscle tension; headaches, and gastrointestinal problems.

Worry doesn’t only affect the worrier.  It often causes relationship problems when you repeatedly seek reassurance from others.  If you’re like most worriers you’ve probably tried various ways to stop it.  People who contact me for help with worry have tried “thought-stopping”, correcting thinking errors, problem-solving, distraction, without much success.  It’s exasperating because the harder you try, the more it continues!

You’re not to Blame

Many people who worry about how much they worry tell me things like, “I’ve always been this way” or “Why can’t I get a handle on this?!”  It’s not your fault that you worry.  It’s partly inherited, but largely your response to worry that keeps it going.  The good news is that you CAN get worry under control.  The obstacle is not knowing how to react to worry in a way that doesn’t aggravate it.

Managing Worry Requires a Paradoxical Approach

Successful treatment for worry is pretty simple. . . .  but not easy.  It requires you to do the OPPOSITE of what you normally do when you think worrisome thoughts and feel anxiety in your body.  Effective management of worry starts when you acknowledge that your worrying, but don’t engage it.  In other words, just ignore it and go about your business.  “What do you mean just ignore it?”  “How will I solve my problem?”   Well, when you indulge your worry do you typically solve the problem and get back to what you want to be doing?  If so, stop reading right here; you don’t need me.

If you’re like most chronic worriers, all your obsessing doesn’t get you anywhere.  That’s because you’re focusing on the wrong issue:  your “problem” isn’t each thing you worry about. . . . your problem IS WORRY.  Anxiety is fooling you into thinking that you MUST pay attention to the situation that’s bothering you.  But the more you do this, the worse it gets.

You actually PERPETUATE worry the more you focus on it.  That’s because worry thrives on attention.  So the more you review the facts, try to answer “why”, seek reassurance from others, the longer worry hangs around.  Why shouldn’t it?   Like an untrained puppy, worry keeps nagging you, hoping you’ll give it another treat!

The way to overcome worry is to do the EXACT OPPOSITE of what you’ve been doing:  identify it accurately – – “Oh, I’m worrying again,” – – then ignore, disregard, turn your back on the issue, because it isn’t your problem.  WORRY is your problem.  And, like a puppy that finally lays down or walks away when it realizes it’s not getting any more of your attention, worry fades the less you focus on it.  Effective treatment of worry teaches you how to do this.