People are experts at turning themselves into chronic worriers—and often without knowing they’re doing it. The problem is that when you’ve turned yourself into a chronic worrier, it’s then very difficult to become a nonworrier again! So why not try to identify those patterns of behaviour that are likely to contribute to making you a chronic worrier, become aware of them, and then try to manage those activities?
Here are five factors that are likely to contribute to you developing unmanageable worrying. If you identify with any of these characteristics, then maybe it's time to think about ways to change, and there are some more tips for dealing with chronic worrying in this earlier post.
1. Reduce Your Stressful Lifestyle. Are you working long hours, dealing with demanding work colleagues, having difficulty with close relationships, or experiencing financial problems? Stress is a big contributor to worrying. It not only provides you with things to worry about, but stress makes you think negatively, focus on bad things happening, and when you start to worry, stress makes it more difficult for you to stop. To make life a bit less stressful, try to lift your mood. Some examples of how to do this are provided here and here.
2. Curb Your Perfectionist Tendencies. Many people are very proud to call themselves perfectionists—they believe they can be relied upon to do any job as well as it possibly can be! But sadly, that’s also true about worrying. If you’re a perfectionist, you’ll want to think through a worry until you’ve exhausted all the possible problems and come up with the perfect solution to every possibility. Your standards will be so high that you’ll also be dissatisfied with solutions that many other people would find acceptable—so that just subjects you to even more worrying! You can find some ideas to help you curb unnecessary perfectionism here and here
3. Don’t Kid Yourself That Your Worrying is Effective. Probably up to 80% of the things people worry about are never likely to happen. So every time you worry about a possible bad thing happening and it doesn’t, don’t kid yourself that it was your worrying that prevented it happening. That is what we call superstitious thinking! If you do keep kidding yourself that your worry always prevents bad things happening you will find yourself needing to worry every time you are faced with a possible problem—worry simply becomes an uncontrollable compulsion.
4. Don’t Feel Responsible for Bad Things Happening. Many people come to believe that they are in some way responsible for bad things happening and that they alone have the power and wherewithal to prevent bad things happening. This feeling of ‘responsibility’ is something that drives worrying—and the worst kind of worrying at that. It drives people to try and predict every possible calamity that might occur (good old “what if….?” worrying), and then to try and work out the best solution to every potential calamity! That’s a lot of worrying. Feeling responsible for almost everything in this way is one of the central features of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and very closely related to these feelings of responsibility is the feeling of ‘guilt’. It is just a small step from feeling responsible for bad things happening to believing you have a moral obligation to prevent such things happening. That’s a heavy and unnecessary cross to bear. Here are some tips to help you manage feelings of responsibility and guilt.
5. Don’t make mountains out of molehills. One of the most crippling forms of worry is known as ‘catastrophizing’. It may seem sensible to try and think through all the possible implications of a problem—but not if you merely make it seem so much worse than it did when you started! If you are someone who lacks a bit of confidence in you own abilities to deal effectively with problems, then you are just the sort of person who is going to catastrophise your problems and make them into insurmountable mountains! If you feel you might be prone to catastrophizing then you can begin by lifting your mood and trying to learn some new ways of thinking about problems.