29 Aug 2018: It is 3am and you turn around in bed for the n-th time as you imagine your house-buy falling through, losing your job, a loved-one being diagnosed with a terminal illness or any other nightmare-scenario. Your fantasy runs wild. Flying from one worst-case scenario to the next you deprive yourself of well-needed sleep. Before you know it, your alarm rings and totally exhausted you get up to face the real challenges of the new day.
Sounds familiar? Many of us are plagued by excessive worrying, at night or daytime. It can even be addictive to wallow in painful imagined scenarios and sometimes we experience a strange pleasure in immersing ourselves deeply in our fears. Often those fears are around events that are unlikely to happen. However once we are fully fused with our thoughts we feel as if those things are really about to happen – with all their emotional and psychological impact.
In some cases we fool ourselves and call it “taking stock” or “thinking things through”. But when we worry we are not taking an objective perspective. We are not looking at things in a rational way. More likely we narrow our attention to catastrophic outcomes.
Prolonged worry brings unnecessary distress and robs time and energy from other parts of our lives.
Signs that you are engaging in unhelpful worrying might be:
- You dwell on vague or unanswerable questions;
- your thoughts go round and round in circles;
- you focus on events that are unlikely to happen;
- you go through a whole chain of various different things you worry about, jumping from one to the next;
- you have a low tolerance to risk-taking and to uncertainty;
- you worry about things that are outside your control; or
- perhaps you have strong anxiety and somehow feel that it is not safe to stop worrying until the anxiety reduces, however it never does but rather increases the more you engross yourself in the troublesome scenarios of your mind.
What can you do? Suppressing worries and negative thoughts can reinforce them and let them come back with a vengeance. A better strategy is to learn how to defuse from your thoughts. There are various ACT and mindfulness techniques to help you with defusion. An additional tool is to allocate worry-time: e.g. every evening you sit in a particular chair and give in freely to your worries for 15 mins. Afterwards you note down if any of your worries are reasonable or need you to plan for preparation or action. Then approach these concerns with rational problem-solving techniques. All else discard. It is important to keep the worry time and place consistent. Ban worrying from all other times of the day and also rigidly establish some worry-free zones, e.g. your bedroom.
If you feel you cannot get your worrying under control or need help with this process it can be useful to turn to an experienced therapist.
Healthunlocked have published a version of my article here.