“I worry too much”
“I can’t stop worrying”
“I worry about everything”
“I cannot control my thoughts”
Have you every said any of the above statements before? You are not alone. Worrying is one of the most commonly presenting concerns heard by psychologists.
The consequences of too much worrying are well known; inability to concentrate or focus, decreased motivation, muscle tension, increased irritability, fatigue, changes in appetite, difficulty sleeping, and more. Everyone experiences the consequences of worrying differently and it can be helpful to reflect on your own signature of worry symptoms.
In this short blog post I am hoping to change the way you think and approach worrying. However, it is not a substitute for treatment with psychologist. Each of the steps have been simplified and its perfectly ok to feel confused or unsure how to proceed. If you feel like worrying has reached a point where its impacting different areas of your life or feel stuck, please seek help.
You will need a pen/notepad through this process. In my opinion, worries are addressed more effectively when written down. Allow yourself several days for each step and its perfectly ok to jump forwards and backwards in terms of steps as new worries or concerns arise.
Step 1 – Recognise Worry
Worrying is a type of thought that is triggered by what if questions. It often chains into further worries like the following
What if…. my work contract does not get renewed…I don’t know how I will pay all my debts…I wont have a dollar to spare…I wont be able to look after the current bills…my family will need to make serious sacrifices…I have failed as mother/father… etc
The first step in changing your approach to worrying is to recognise that it is happening. In this example we can see that worrying thoughts share common traits. They are thoughts that are future focused, involve uncertainty about an outcome, assume negative things will happen and cause us to feel anxious.
Step 2 – Separate
Worries need to be separated into two major types; current and potential problems. Current problems exist and are entirely within our control, whilst potential problems do not exist yet (and in most cases never will) or is not within our control. The flowchart below helps separate our worries into these two categories.
*A quick side note on control. There are times when we believe things are within our control when in reality they may not be. This is common when there is someone else involved in the outcome or if the outcome will be determined in the future. In these situations, we may be able to influence the outcome, but we are not in control of it.
Step 3 – Act
Once the worries have been separated, we should prioritise and act on the current problems because they exist now and are entirely within our control. There are two techniques available to deal with current problems.
Technique 1 – The Action Plan (A problem you may have solved before or are familiar with)
- What needs to be done?
- How am I going to do it?
- When am I going to do it?
Technique 2 – Problem Solving Treatment (a new, ambiguous, or novel problem)
- What is the exact problem?
- List all possible solutions (quantity over quality)
- Evaluate the solutions (pros and cons of each)
- Choose a solution
- Plan the solution (break it down into smaller steps and put an expected completion time on each)
- Execute the solution
- Reflect on the outcome (if unsuccessful, return to step 4 and repeat)
Step 4 – Reflect and Accept
Once we have dealt with the current problems, or at least developed a plan to address them, it is likely that the positive feelings of relief will emerge. After all, by separating and actioning some of your worries you would have taken care of a decent percentage of problems in your life.
What about the potential problems you ask? Well, we need to reflect on them first to determine whether it is worthwhile to exert the amount of mental/physical energy and time toward them. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself.
- How certain am I that this problem will occur?
- Even if it does occur how much control do I have over the outcome?
- What will I be sacrificing by putting effort into this problem that may or may not occur?
- Am I assuming that only negative outcomes will occur?
- If I was giving advice to someone with a similar issue, what would I tell them?
These reflection questions will help you view the problem from a different angle. It can also be helpful to consult others during this process.
In majority of cases, potential problems do not occur, or the outcome is not as catastrophic as we imagine. If you are willing to accept this likelihood the following strategies are helpful to cope with the uncertainty.
- Distraction (doing activities which are enjoyable and take your mind away from the problem)
- Mindfulness ( Engaging in guided meditation using an app)
- Physical activity
- Socialising with friends and family
- Positive self-talk (Speaking to yourself with compassion, reminding yourself of similar problems you have encountered in the past and how you overcame them)
On the other hand if you are still consumed by the potential problem, try this strategy.
- What is the worst possible outcome that could occur? ( do not hold back, list all your fears however unlikely)
- What is the best possible outcome that could occur?
- What is the most realistic outcome that would occur?
- Make an action plan (from step 3) for the realistic outcomes
Hopefully this mini guide has provided some guidance on how you might go about dealing with worry. If you would like more assistance with managing worry, then please get in contact with our team of psychologists.