Why do we worry?
John Condron, LCPC, Clinical Director of Willow Sage Services, a mental health clinic in Pocatello, is fond of saying “Worry is stress over something that has not happened and may never happen.”
We all worry, but some of us worry so much that it interferes with our lives and can even become a mental health problem. But why do we worry? What does it accomplish? Does it help us?
Unhelpful Thinking Habits
Referred to as “cognitive distortions” in textbooks, Condron prefers to call the following exaggerated or irrational beliefs “unhelpful thinking habits.” As indicated above, they form the basis of mental illnesses such as Depression and anxiety disorders. But they are also the causes of the worry that plagues most of us.
Here are ten delusional beliefs held by many chronic worriers:
1. “I’m a born worrier”. Not so. Worriers are not born; they are made. Though anxiety has a small genetic component to it, there is no evidence that worrying is inherited. True, your mother or your father may have been a worrier, but it is likely that you simply learned the habit from them.
2. “I worry about things because they are likely to happen.” The opposite might actually be true. Most of the things about which we worry are highly unlikely to ever happen, but the more you worry about something, the more you think it’s likely to happen. In fact, worrying about it might make it – or something worse -- more likely to happen!
3. “The things I’ve worried about in the past didn’t happen because I worried about them!” Most of the things we worry about are never likely to happen. If it didn’t happen, it was probably because it never would have happened. Worrying alone never prevented anything from happening; but it surely causes lots of unnecessary stress.
4. “I am the cause of the bad things that happen to and around me.” This is known as “personalization.” It is very common, even normal, in young children; but it doesn’t fully go away as we get older.
5. “If I’m anxious about something, that’s my body’s way of telling me it’s a threat or a problem.” We often misread the cues our bodies send us. We might think we are anxious when we are tired, in pain, bored, or in some other negative mood. These feelings don’t mean that what you’re thinking about is a threat or problem.
6. “I’m useless at coming up with solutions, so I have no choice but to worry.” Most chronic worriers are as good as anyone else at thinking of useful solutions, but they lack confidence. The worry itself might even make it more difficult for them to think!
7. “I must think through all the possible things that might happen; otherwise I won’t be prepared.” Worriers are in the habit of continually asking “What if…?” questions. But the more potential catastrophes they generate, the less energy they can devote to real problems… or to enjoying life.
8. “Worrying about others will show them that I care about them.” There’s nothing worse than knowing that someone else is continually worrying about you. If you do care about someone, let them know that in more direct ways.
9. “If I let other people know what they do makes me worry, they will change their behavior.” Chances are, they’ll realize you are trying to manipulate them into doing your bidding, which is likely to trigger anger. Family and friends can easily see through this form of emotional blackmail, which is a major cause of relationship problems.
10. “It is better to spend a lot of time thinking about a problem than to make a snap decision.” Philosophers have told us for 6000 years that it is better to be rational than emotional; the reality is much more complicated. We can make decisions much more quickly with our “but,” using “short-cuts” or “rules of thumb.” We really don’t have to spend a long time thinking through every aspect of every issue before deciding. We just don’t have the time!
If these or other kinds of anxious thoughts are interfering with your life, help is available. To make an appointment with Cognitive Behavior Therapist John Condron, call Willow Sage Services in Pocatello at (208) 233-1276.