Throughout the years, I’ve witnessed firsthand the profound impact anxiety, particularly worry, can have on individuals’ well-being. It’s a universal human experience that touches each of our lives at some point. We’ve all found ourselves worrying about what might unfold in a job interview or who will be present at a social gathering. However, for many of us, worry becomes a lingering presence—an unwelcome companion we desperately seek to eliminate or obsessively engage with in an attempt to fix our problems. What exacerbates our anxiety is often our failure to grasp the purpose and role of worry itself, leading to unnecessary stress and unease.
In this exploration, we’ll delve deeper into the realm of worry, unravelling its true nature and shedding light on this distinctly human experience. By gaining a better understanding of worry, we open the door to transforming the way we perceive and navigate it. Let’s embark on this journey of discovery, where newfound insights may alter the way you think about and ultimately deal with worry.
Are you someone who tends to worry a bit too much? Imagine having an imaginary friend throughout your entire life, constantly telling you that the worst is going to happen. They instil in you a fear of the unknown, the need to constantly worry about everything, and the belief that overthinking will somehow solve all your problems. For years, you trust and listen to this person. What do you think would happen? Eventually, everything becomes a source of threat and anxiety. Every potential problem requires excessive rumination to ensure you’ve covered all the bases. If you take a moment to reflect, you can see how easily you could fall into patterns of worrying, making it a habitual part of your life. Fast forward months or even years, and you find yourself drained, stressed, experiencing declining health and well-being. Your sleep is disrupted, your appetite fluctuates between starvation and loss of interest in food, and you start avoiding situations that trigger worry. It’s at this point that you discover the person you trusted all along had it all wrong.
So, what’s the point of worrying? From an evolutionary perspective, worry can be seen as a survival strategy that has developed over time to help us anticipate and prepare for potential threats in our environment. It’s a natural response that aided our ancestors in staying vigilant and protecting themselves and their communities from harm. Evolution rewarded those who were thinkers and a bit risk-averse since they were more likely to survive and pass on their genes. Our ancestors had worries similar to ours; it’s just that the modern world has presented us with a significantly different environment. Physical threats are less prevalent today, but long-term chronic stressors that lead to worry can become persistent, resulting in anxiety and other negative outcomes.
We are wired to worry. Think of it this way: our ancestors had long-term worries, such as the next wet season, an injured loved one, or a rival tribe in a neighbouring valley. However, today we are bombarded with countless smaller stressors: financial concerns, housing, work pressures, the impact of social media, global events, conflicts, chronic health conditions, and so much more. It seems like we worry about everything under the sun. Worry is a normal part of being human. The problem arises when worry takes more from us than it gives and prevents us from truly living our lives, depleting our reserves. Thankfully, on the extreme end of the worry spectrum, there’s something called Generalised Anxiety Disorder (also known as GAD), a well-known and common condition that can be effectively treated with various options, including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
So some practical applications right? Let’s look at a couple of skills that are often taught with CBT.
In our quest for control and security, we often find ourselves seeking certainty in an uncertain world. We want reassurance that everything will turn out as planned, that we can predict the future, and that we’ll be safe from potential harm. However, this relentless pursuit of certainty can become a burden, particularly for those of us struggling with anxiety or generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). But what if I told you that embracing uncertainty and letting go of the need for absolute certainty can actually be liberating? Let’s explore how to cultivate the skill of tolerating uncertainty and find freedom in the midst of life’s unpredictability.
- Recognize the Illusion of Certainty: the first step in tolerating uncertainty is acknowledging that certainty is an illusion. The truth is, no matter how much we plan, analyse, or seek reassurance, we cannot control or predict every outcome. Life is filled with unexpected twists and turns, and our attempts to grasp onto certainty only lead to more anxiety and distress. Understanding and accepting this fundamental truth is crucial to breaking free from the cycle of worry.
- Challenge the Need for Certainty: take a moment to reflect on the reasons behind your need for certainty. What drives this intense desire to know and control everything? Recognize that seeking absolute certainty is not only impossible but also unnecessary for living a fulfilling life. Challenge the belief that certainty equals safety and happiness. Remind yourself that uncertainty is a natural part of the human experience, and it doesn’t have to dictate your well-being.
- Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness is a powerful tool for cultivating present-moment awareness and reducing anxiety. Engage in mindfulness exercises such as deep breathing, body scans, or guided meditations to anchor yourself in the present. Notice when your mind drifts into worries about the future or the need for certainty, and gently bring your attention back to the present moment. By focusing on the here and now, you can gradually train your mind to let go of the constant need for certainty.
- Shift Perspective: Instead of viewing uncertainty as a threat, try reframing it as an opportunity for growth and learning. Embrace the idea that uncertainty opens doors to new possibilities and experiences. Think about times in your life when unexpected events or outcomes led to positive outcomes or personal development. Allow yourself to see uncertainty as a chance for adventure and growth rather than something to be feared.
- Engage in Exposure Exercises: Exposure exercises can be a powerful way to confront and tolerate uncertainty. Start by gradually exposing yourself to situations or decisions that trigger uncertainty or anxiety. Allow yourself to sit with the discomfort without seeking reassurance or trying to eliminate uncertainty. Over time, you’ll build resilience and realise that you can cope with the unknown.
Rule of thumb; nothing is certain, and that’s ok. Repeat this to yourself often. Tolerating uncertainty and letting go of the constant search for certainty is a transformative journey. By recognising the illusion of certainty, challenging your need for it, practising mindfulness, shifting your perspective, and engaging in exposure exercises, you can cultivate the skill of embracing uncertainty. Remember, life’s uncertainties don’t have to paralyse you with worry. Instead, they can become opportunities for growth, resilience, and embracing the beautiful unpredictability of the world around us.
One powerful strategy in managing worry is implementing a technique called “worry time.” It’s a simple yet effective protocol that helps you gain control over your anxious thoughts and prevent them from dominating your entire day.
Here’s how worry time works:
- Set aside a designated worry time: Choose a specific time and place for your worry time. It’s helpful to select a consistent daily slot, preferably during the early evening, to ensure you have adequate time to process your worries before bedtime.
- Create a worry list: Throughout the day, whenever worries arise, jot them down on your worry list. This step is crucial as it allows you to acknowledge your concerns without dwelling on them in the present moment.
- Focus solely on worries during worry time: When your scheduled worry time arrives, take out your worry list and give yourself permission to fully engage with those concerns. Dedicate the entire duration of the worry time to deliberate and contemplate each worry.
- Problem-solve and challenge your worries: During your worry time, go through each worry on your list and ask yourself if there are any practical steps you can take to address the issue. Engage in problem-solving and consider potential solutions. Additionally, challenge the validity of your worries by examining the evidence supporting them. Often, we find that our worries are exaggerated or unfounded.
- Postpone worries outside of worry time: If a worry arises outside of your designated worry time, remind yourself that you have a dedicated period to address it later. Encourage yourself to let go of the worry temporarily and refocus your attention on the present moment.
By implementing the worry time technique, you create a structured framework that helps contain your worries, preventing them from intruding on other aspects of your life. It enables you to exert control over your thoughts and allocate a specific time to address your concerns actively.
The beauty of worry time lies in its pragmatism and simplicity. It’s a practical tool that anyone can implement, regardless of how intense their worry may be. By following the worry time protocol consistently, you gradually teach your mind to compartmentalise worries, reducing their impact on your overall well-being.
Remember, the goal of worry time is not to eliminate worry entirely, as it’s a natural part of being human. Instead, the aim is to confine worries to a designated period, freeing up mental space and allowing you to engage more fully with the present moment. Give the worry time technique a try, and observe how it empowers you to take charge of your worries, enhancing your overall resilience and peace of mind.
Learn To Solve Problems Not Just Worry About them
Mastering problem-solving skills is a key aspect of managing worry and anxiety. By following a structured approach, you can effectively address the issues that trigger worry and anxiety. Let’s explore a practical problem-solving protocol that empowers you to navigate life’s challenges with confidence.
- Define the Problem:Clearly identify the specific issue causing concern. Break it down into smaller components to make it more manageable. For example, if you’re worried about finding a job, specify the skills you need or the steps to create an impressive resume.
- Brainstorm Solutions: Generate a list of potential solutions without evaluating them initially. Think creatively and consider different perspectives. Don’t dismiss any ideas at this stage. For instance, explore networking, online job portals, or career counseling as potential solutions.
- Evaluate and Choose:Assess the feasibility and effectiveness of each solution. Weigh the pros and cons, considering the risks and benefits. Select the solution that aligns with your values and goals. For example, choose networking events as a solution if you value face-to-face interactions.
- Create an Action Plan:Break down the chosen solution into actionable steps. Set a timeline or schedule to guide your progress. Identify the resources or support you may need. For instance, schedule networking events on specific dates, prepare a list of target companies, and reach out to contacts for informational interviews.
- Implement and Monitor:Put your action plan into motion. Start working on the identified steps. Stay committed and motivated, even when faced with obstacles. Monitor your progress regularly, adjusting your approach as needed. Celebrate achievements along the way.
- Evaluate and Learn:Assess the outcomes of your efforts. Reflect on what worked well and what could be improved. Learn from any setbacks or challenges encountered. This evaluation process enhances your problem-solving skills and informs your approach for future situations.
- Seek Support: Don’t hesitate to seek support from trusted individuals or professionals. They can provide guidance and offer fresh perspectives. Consider reaching out to mentors, colleagues,, or support groups to gain insights and stay motivated.
By following this problem-solving protocol, you can regain control over the challenges that contribute to your GAD. Define the problem, brainstorm solutions, evaluate and choose the best approach, create an action plan, implement it with determination, evaluate the outcomes, and seek support when needed. Empower yourself with practical problem-solving skills, and embrace the journey of navigating life’s obstacles with confidence and resilience. Remember, you have the ability to overcome challenges and find effective solutions that improve your well-being
So, that’s a little about the science and treatment of excessive worry. None of what I have written is original, and I certainly haven’t invented anything new. Most of what I have written is my interpretation of the CBT treatment by Dugas and colleagues, who are considered top dogs in the CBT world. If worry is something you struggle with, I highly recommend the book ‘Overcoming Generalised Anxiety Disorder‘. It’s a practical resource that delves deeper into the topic.
If excessive worry is interfering with your life, I encourage you to seek further help. You are not alone in experiencing excessive worry and anxiety; it affects many of us. Reach out to your GP, mental health workers at your local surgery, or get referred to local services. Remember, support is available, and there is no need to face this alone.”
About the author
I have been working as a mental health nurse since 2016 and have been around the block working in a lot of different areas. At present I work in a service where I assess people and provide interventions. I love my job, I love learning and talking to people about mental health and wellbeing. This article represents my personal opinion and is certainly not medical advice. If you have concerns about your mental health please speak with a GP or health professional.
The CALL helpline – 0800 132 737 or text HELP to 81066. Sometimes reaching out for support whether it is a friend, family member or GP is the hardest thing to do, but a good way to do this is by talking to someone through a confidential and impartial service. CALL Offers emotional support, a confidential listening service and information/literature on Mental Health and related matters to the people of Wales and their relatives/friends.