The 10 worst ways to handle your worries | Got Anxiety?
Mary B. Barmann, MFT
Someone once said, “Worrying is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.”
For people who worry too much, we offer the following advice regarding what NOT to do when you find yourself drowning in a sea of worries, and need to stay a float:
1. SEEK REASSURANCE
You are worried that a blemish on your face may be skin cancer, so you visit your dermatologist over and over again to find out if you have cancer. Your doctor keeps stating that you do NOT have skin cancer. Although you feel less anxiety following each doctor’s appointment, the next week you schedule additional tests. Reassurance seeking has a short “half-life” (around 2 hours), and only serves to strengthen anxiety concerning your worries.
2. DEMAND CERTAINTY
Worriers tend to predict negative outcomes associated with unexpected events; they do NOT like surprises. Seeking certainty in an uncertain world, only serves to increase the frequency of worry. Look for, expect, and embrace uncertainty when you encounter it. Define a “bad day” as one which did not involve uncertainty.
3. TELL YOURSELF TO STOP WORRYING
How often have you told a friend, “Don’t worry about it.” Trying to not think a particular thought, creates a “thought rebound” effect. The very thought you are trying to suppress will actually increase in frequency throughout the day. Instead, intentionally expose yourself to the worrisome thought. Dictate it on your smart phone, listen to it several times, imagine the worry in great detail. It gets old after awhile, and you will habituate to the worry itself.
4. OVER ANALYZE YOUR WORRY
Rather than spend a great deal of time over analyzing the content of your worries, change the relationship you have with your thoughts. By lowering the degree of importance you place on the content of your worries, the need to worry will become less necessary.
5. BE OVERLY RESPONSIBLE
One of the beliefs that worriers endorse is, if they didn’t worry about certain matters, that would mean they are behaving in an irresponsible manner. Some parents believe that to not worry about their children’s health, is synonymous with being an irresponsible parent. There are many actions that add up to being a responsible person, and worrying doesn’t need to be part of the formula.
6. AVOID FEELING ANXIOUS
Some people experience a high degree of “anxiety sensitivity” — thinking they can’t handle the feeling of anxiety itself. Perhaps it will “spiral out of control,” or they may “go crazy.” A common strategy for dealing with worries is to procrastinate tasks that result in a chain of worrisome thoughts. People engage in procrastination because the short-term consequence is positive. However, procrastination, which is triggered by a “perfectionistic” personality trait, only serves to strengthen anxiety.
7. COLLECT TOO MUCH INFORMATION
Worriers focus on information which helps to confirm what they are worried about. They are driven by a “confirmation bias”; i.e., a biased selection of information which helps to confirm negative beliefs. A wife is worried that her husband may be cheating. She thinks, “If I’m feeling threatened because I believe my husband is cheating on me, then he must be cheating, or why would I feel this way”? Her “emotional reasoning” triggers a need to collect evidence related to the crime of infidelity. One day she noticed her husband didn’t wear his wedding ring to work, and arrived home later than usual that evening. She then used this over collection of “evidence” to conclude that her worry about her husband’s cheating was indeed justified.
8. OVERESTIMATE RISK
One of the factors most responsible for maintaining chronic worry is that worriers tend to consistently inflate probabilities related to the likelihood that something bad will happen, as well as overestimating the severity of the outcome. In addition, they rarely seek to obtain one vital piece of information; how often did their predicted outcome NOT occur?
9. WEAVE A SAFETY NET
Worriers tend to perform many “safety behaviors” — things they do to feel secure. Someone who is worried about having a panic attack while driving, will have anxiety medication in the car’s glove compartment, or may drive in the far right-hand lane. Although the use of safety behaviors is designed to give the worrier a sense of control, the reality is that these behaviors only serve to strengthen a person’s belief that they cannot handle the situation on their own.
10. PRACTICE UNPRODUCTIVE WORRY
The next time you find yourself worrying, determine if its productive or unproductive worry. Ask yourself…”Am I focused on a realistic problem?” “Is the worry motivating me to take action?” “Am I generating potential solutions?” If you answered “NO” to any of these questions, your worry is most likely unproductive, creating unnecessary feelings of anxiety. Learn to choose your worry battles
Barry C. Barmann, Ph.D., is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in Nevada and California. His wife, Mary B. Barmann, MFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California. They own the Center for Anxiety & Chronic Worry in Incline Village. Barry may be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org; visit anxietytreatmentinclinevillage.com to learn more.
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