Managing Worry

Worry is a natural protective mechanism, designed to make us vigilant concerning current and potential problems.  It is characterised by ‘what if’ thinking. What if I lose my job?  What if I get cancer? 

There are two main types of problems that we tend to worry about:

1) a current problem that needs solving/action. 

2) a potential problem that may or may not happen.  

Major worriers have a problem tolerating uncertainty in their lives and may even think that there are benefits to worrying such as:

1)  It motivates me to get things done.

2)  It prepares me for the worst case scenario.

It is easy to confuse worry with action.  Is the worrying productive?  Does it lead to constructive action?  If the problem is something that might occur in the future, such as getting cancer, then worrying about it is unhelpful unless it leads to constructive action such as creating a healthier lifestyle.

The actor Michale J. Fox, is someone who has Parkinson's disease, but still maintains a very healthy attitude to worrying:

“Don’t spend a lot of time imagining the worst-case scenario. It rarely goes down as you imagine it will, and if by some fluke it does, you will have lived it twice.”

Worrying itself does not change an event but it can intensify anxiety which makes it harder to think constructively about action you could take. 

Strategies for Managing Worry

1. ‘Worry tree’: Can I do something about it?

No: Postpone the worry.

Yes: Can I do something about it now or later?

Now: Decide on an action and do it.

Later: Decide when and how, then postpone the worry for when the time is right for you to worry and take action.

2. Possibility vs probability. It is possible for a piano to fall on your head when you leave your home tomorrow morning but the probability of that happening is very small. Everything is possible but becomes more probable due to our choices in life.  For example if we choose to smoke regularly, we are increasing our chances of getting cancer. 

3. "I will cross that bridge when I get to it’ strategy. Help yourself postpone the worry.

4. Plan half an hour worry time into your day and postpone your worrying until then.  You will find that this helps you break the habit of unproductive worrying over time.

5. Mindfulness. Activities that bring your awareness into the here and now.  Eg. going for a walk and noticing nature around you, playing a musical instrument or a sport, spending time in the here and now with young children or animals, who tend to live in the present.

A major worrier indulges in "what if" thinking frequently, which intensifies anxiety.  Why disturb yourself unecessarily about things that may never happen? You are choosing to ruin your own day. 

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