Science and Sensibility

A psychological potpourri

Worry, Anxiety, and Worse

Substitute confident composure for worry

When worry is in gear, anxiety is near. Some of your worries and anxieties are adaptive. Your normally punctual friend is late. You can only guess about the delay. Your apprehension shows that you care for your friend's welfare. You feel anxiously apprehensive about traveling through a dangerous neighborhood, so you take a different route.

Worry and anxiety may be natural but sometimes dysfunctional. If you are wired to worry excessively, you are likely to turn possibilities into calamities. Your child is five-minutes late. You worry that a pedophile kidnapped her.  At the end of a busy day of worrying, you lay awake lamenting the mistakes of the day. You terrorize yourself about the horrors that you anticipate for tomorrow. These are parasitic worries and anxieties that drain time and resources and offer nothing valuable in return. You can comfortably live without them.

Tackle your parasitic worries starting now. Learn to defuse them with confident composure. In this state of mind, you recognize that you can directly command only yourself. You resolve to do so. When you are in charge of yourself, you believe you can better influence the controllable events that take place around you. You act to do so. Here are three sample ways to build confident composure:

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1. Get clear on the evidence. Compare facts with speculations. Ask yourself, what are the facts I can rely on? Is it possible to suspend judgment until I get them? 

2. Break the reward for worry cycle. When you worry about low probability events, and nothing bad happens, you will probably feel relief. Because it rewards worry thinking, this relief is specious.  Think about this thinking and about how to change the pattern. Think of positive and probable alternatives.   Instead of magnifying a possibility that a friend's lateness is due to an accident, consider that your friend was caught in traffic or forget the meeting. What’s more likely?

3. Remind yourself to cope.  Don't rely exclusively on your memory to cope. Instead, create a wallet-sized card where you remind yourself to: (1) Subdue worry by refusing to make a magical jump from a possible calamity to a probable disaster. (2) Break out of the "could be trap" where because you think something could happen it will happen. (3) Decline to participate in the if-then trap, where you act as if you believed that if something bad happens, then you wouldn’t be able to cope. Instead, consider what you can do to give yourself the best chance under the worst of conditions. If you can handle the worst, you can cope better with lesser stressors.

Control the Mind that Creates the Anxiety

Catastrophic thinking is taking a bad situation and making it worse. If you are prone to worry about potential catastrophes, you take an imaginary disaster and magnify it. You have a headache and agonize over the possibility of a brain tumor. 

Let's turn the tables on catastrophic thinking.  Neutralize these fantasies with humorous exaggerations.

Because you believe you'll look like a fool if you make a mistake on an upcoming presentation, you feel anxious. To use humorous exaggeration, imagine a New York Times reporter writing a story about a slip of a tongue.  Perhaps you mispronounced a word. Whatever the error, you are the headline story.  Imagine that 20 years later someone recognizes you, laughs, and says, "Aren't you the person who made the Times headline for messing up the pronunciation of malapropism?" (Remind yourself that are not poking fun at yourself. Rather you are poking fun at a parasitic thought.)

Listen to you inner voice. Do you hear a familiar refrain where you view yourself as too weak to cope effectively enough? Use this as an opportunity to add to your confident composure with four reality acceptances:

1. Accept---not like---your stress sensations. If you are not fearful if feeling fear, you are moving in the direction of earning confident composure.

2. Accept that you can't be 100% sure that your worrisome predictions are correct. However, you may be confident that your fantasy fears are foolish.

3. Accept uncertainty as a necessary part of living. On the other hand, if you fear what you don’t know, you’ll have many unnecessary worries, anxieties, and worse, such as dwelling at the thought of what you don’t know and of the horrors of unknowing.

4. Accept that if you have the power to think about your thinking, to consider alternative possibilities, and to accept reality, you are not powerless to act against worry, anxiety, and worse.

Procrastination Petrifies Positive Purpose

Most will duck situations they link to discomfort, making discomfort the primary reason for procrastination. Try a different way.

Addressing a parasitic worry-anxiety-procrastination connection takes a circular solution: (1) Attack procrastination that blocks resolving your parasitic worry and anxiety thinking.  (2) Breach procrastination barriers on the path to cope with situations where you experience a parasitic strain. (3) Refuse to discomfort dodge; instead, you expose yourself to situations that can evoke parasitic fears so that you can learn to cope. (Exposure is a gold standard for overcoming fictional fears.)

For more information on breaking a procrastination-anxiety connection, see: Stop Procrastinating and Overcome Your Worries and Fears . Click on parts 1-4 of my  free video Combatting Procrastination program. What is Procrastination?  Basic Techniques for Combatting ProcrastinationSeven Principles for Combatting Procrastination.  Part 4: Procrastination Thinking

For in depth information on overcoming worry, anxiety, and worse, see: The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Anxiety

For multiple ways to defuse worry, see Are You a Dutiful Worrier? (By Dr. Elliot Cohen).

(C) Dr. Bill Knaus

Bill Knaus, Ed.D., is the author of more than 20 books; one, "Overcoming Procrastination", was co-authored with Albert Ellis.


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