When we talk about worry, we refer to thoughts that go through our minds and they often lead to uncomfortable feelings, such as: anxiety. Worry also affects the way we feel in our bodies; it can make us feel tense and have symptoms like: fast breathing, palpitations, pins and needles in our hands and legs, restlessness and butterflies in our stomachs. Consequently, it also leads to changes in our routines and behaviours, such as: difficulties with sleep and avoidance of certain situations, places or people.
Worry is like a magnet that attracts all our attention. It is hard to take our minds away from worry thoughts. Those usually alert us and point us towards the direction of anything that can go wrong in our life. The more we worry, the more we scan the environment for possible threats we can identify.
Worry has an important characteristic: it spreads! We might start worrying about a job interview that we have in two days and end up thinking: ‘If I do not get the job, I won’t be able to provide for my family. Who is going to pay for the children’s nursery? My wife is going to be so disappointed of me that I won’t contribute to the family. Is my marriage at risk?’. As you can see, we might start worrying about a real life scenario and end up worrying about hypothetical scenarios that might never happen in real life. It is hard to limit the worry as it usually leads to those ‘worst case scenarios’ that might take place. Even if they are unlikely, ‘what if?’ something goes wrong and they do actually happen?
The first step to manage your worry is to be able to notice it when it happens. Sometimes we can be on auto-pilot and not really aware of what is going through our minds. Therefore, every time you feel tense or anxious, do ask yourself:
‘What makes me anxious? What did I worry about a while ago? When went through my mind?’.
Then, there are two very important questions you can ask yourself to help you differentiate between helpful and unhelpful worry:
- Is this worry about a real life scenario or a hypothetical one?
As you can see in the aforementioned example, worry can spread from real life situations to imaginary scenarios. If you ask yourself this question and you realise that your worry is about something hypothetical, let go of your thoughts and focus on the activity that you are doing in the moment. Remind yourself that you have no control over the future and that you are not able to predict how situations will go. Therefore, it is not worth spending energy and time on something that has not even happened yet.
If your worry is about a real life situation, think about the question below.
- Can I do anything to address the situation that I worry about?
If the answer is no, you need to accept that, unfortunately, you have no control over the situation. Try to do the best you can, given this difficult situation. Use your social network for emotional support. Again, try to let go of this unhelpful and unproductive thought and focus on what you are doing in the here and now.
For example: ‘My dad is suffering from a heart problem. What if he dies soon? Can I do anything about the situation? Unfortunately, I cannot stop anything bad happening to my father. I need to accept that his health might deteriorate. I can only be there to support him and make this easier for him’.
If, on the other hand, you can do something to address the problem you are worrying about, either take action there and then or plan you action for later.
For example: ‘I keep gaining weight and I do not like the fact that I am not fit. Can I do anything about this? Yes, I can join the gym soon. Actions to take: Tonight, search for the most convenient gym in my area which is not very expensive. Tomorrow, call them to ask the questions I want. Join the gym at the end of the month after my pay day’.
I hope you found this first step in managing your worry helpful. Feel free to send me your questions as well as anything that you have found helpful in managing your worry.