Regain Control of Worry

by Carolyn Moriarty, LCPC

Nervousness, uncertainty and anxiety are an unavoidable part of life. These emotions usually arise as an appropriate response to circumstances that pose a potential threat to our well-being—for instance, a loss of employment, a decline in health or separation from a loved one. This normal stress response, known as “eustress,” actually serves a positive function because it keeps us motivated and compels us to take action to solve unavoidable problems.

Yet for some people, worry can feel like a switch that is permanently turn to “on.” For these individuals, worry feels like an all-consuming fear, anxiety and apprehension that occurs even in the absence of a legitimate threat.

Why Do We Worry? 
Some people are more prone to worry than others, especially those who tend to get anxious easily. These people might understand that they are worrying too much and then fall into the trap of “worrying about worry” by obsessing over how it will affect their health and convincing themselves that they have no control over their thoughts. In contrast, other people may have positive beliefs about worry. For instance, they might consciously or subconsciously believe that worrying about something bad will prevent it from happening, or that worrying about a problem long enough will help them figure it out. If you can relate to either of these, it is important remember that worrying is not a solution and there are steps you can take to regain control of your mind.

Pay Attention to Your Thoughts 
People who experience chronic anxiety and worry tend to perceive the world as more threatening than it really is. This thinking error, or “cognitive distortion”, occurs when we rely on inaccurate or biased logic to process information. As a result, we act and behave in irrational ways without understanding the real reasons for we did so. Our skewed perspective on reality also leaves us with feelings of anxiety and distress. Common types of cognitive distortions include:

    • All-or-nothing thinking: thinking in terms of black and white. “Everything must be perfect, or I am a total failure.” 


    • Overgeneralization: applying the outcome a single negative experience to all current scenarios. “The last interview I had was terrible. This interview will be a disaster too. I am not employable.”  


    • Fortune-telling: immediately jumping immediately to worst-case scenarios. “I just know that something is going to go horribly wrong.” 

Other types of cognitive distortions may lead you to feel guilty for things that were outside your control or label yourself as a “loser” or “unworthy.” Listen to your thoughts and be mindful of when you are falling into these thinking traps. Ask yourself: what is the evidence for this belief? What’s the probability that this fear will come true? What is a more realistic way of looking at the situation?  

Gain a Better Perspective
As mentioned earlier, worry and anxiety can be functional if they can be used to help you solve a problem. However, not all problems are within our control. To distinguish between “solvable” and “unsolvable” problems, write down all your worries and identify the ones in which you can take action on right away. Try not to worry too much on finding the perfect solution, or making the “wrong” decision. Instead, create a plan of action that involves small, concrete steps. For more information, read these post about setting goals and using your time effectively. For “unsolvable problems” that are not within your control, it is helpful to practice skills such acceptance and mindfulness.

Chronic worry and anxiety can feel overwhelming and uncontrollable. However, continuing to believe that life will continually end in a poor outcome deters us from developing goals and engaging in the necessary behaviors it will take to achieve them. The next time you feel yourself caught in a trap of rumination, take some type of action, no matter how small. As Professor Sean Maguire explains it to Will in Good Will Hunting: “You’ll never have that kind of relationship in a world where you’re always afraid to take the first step, because all you see is every negative thing ten miles down the road.” 

– Carolyn Moriarty, LPC

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