Thriving On Worry
If you want to get ahead in life, make sure you worry effectively.
Posted Oct 29, 2015
Worry—repetitive thoughts about current or potential events you think as threatening becasue you are not sure you can manage them—does not make us feel good, unless you are a lover of anxiety. In all my years as a psychologist, I never heard anybody complain, "I've got nothing to worry about."
For many, worry often sparks counterproductive behavior—over eating, drinking, smoking, or just being a pain in the neck to others. I never heard a husband say, "My wife's best attribute is that she worries all the time." However, I hear people frequently say to their loved ones in both life and film, "You worry too much," and we've all heard the song, "Don't worry, Be Happy!"
If worry does not make us feel good and often creates stressful patterns of living, why do we do it? I'll take the evoutionary perspective and answer that you are hard wired or born to worry!
Your ancestors who "worried" about the factors that influenced thier survival-food sources, defending against predators-would be favored by Natural Selection, as their "worry" provided them the time to think about how best to master survival challenges. Thus, the evolutionary function of worry is to remind you that you are at risk, and you best take the time to think about how best to respond.
Since your hardwired to worry, use it as intended: a tool that helps you spend time to figure out how best to respond to problems that are threatening. Here are three steps to help you worry more effectively
1. Befriend Worry. This means that every time you are worrying, you use it as a cue to ask yourself, "what is going on in my life that I find threatening? " Is it your finances, marriage, health, children? Befriending worry is easier said than done because to do so, you have to feel comfortable in addressing your vulnerabilities.
Many a physician will testify that many patients do not want to address their vulnerabilities and as a result, suffer dire consequences. Many spouses will tell you their partner gets anxious when their health is discussed and shorten the discussion as a result. Why? Because acknowledging vulnerability is uncomfortable so we like to act like we are invulnerable but in so doing, we remain at risk.
Befriending worry allows you to be in a worry state productively—to be comfortable feeling vulnerable. Self help tips here would be: keep a feeling journal; play games and take big risks that make you vulnerable-it is only a game so no reason to "run" from the feeling; take small risks, like going to a new restaurant. The point is that to use worry effectively, you have to spend time thinking about a particular issue and you do this best by being comfortable thinking about it and talking about it.
2. Realitize Worry Perspective. Here the goal is to keep you from making a "cognitive maladaption." Tune into your thoughts and you will probably see that you are making catastrophic self statements: The gas bill is high, but to internally say, "Gas prices are killing me," is an exaggeration that spikes your worry intensity and only perpetuates needless worry-worry that does not help the situation; you need less of it.
Tuning to your self statements and challenging their truth value helps you clarify them so you can put your worry in realistic perspective. Just because you are going to be five minutes late to your meeting is not a threat to your "survival." Asking yourself if you can control the outcome of the "events" you worry about and recognizing that you can't is a useful way to diminish needless worry thoughts. There is an abundance of research that shows that excessive worry thoughts are hazardous to both physical and mental health. One way they are harmful is they create physiological disturbances for prolonged periods of time, and these disturbances operate as wear and tear on the body.
It is also helpful to learn to use worry arousal as a signal that it is time to clarify your thinking—this allows you to quickly catch cognitive maladaptations before they intensify your worry intensity to a level that makes you ineffective.
3. Become Action Oriented. What do you need to do to make the worry go away? What do you need to do to minimize the threat? Are you worried about the gas bill? What's the best thing to do—keep worrying about it or find a car pool or a cheaper gas station? You are worried about your upcoming presentation? What is the best thing to do? Keep telling yourself that if you perorm poorly you will get fired or think about how you can make it stellar
The self help logic here is to use your thoughts—the cognitive component of your emotions—to help you convert physical worry arousal into the positive energy that is required for the actions that will take your worries away. Again, it is easy to see how natural selection favored those that used worry to help them problem solve. Is it any wonder that research shows that star performers, effective leaders, and healthier people are better problem solvers than their counterparts?
Let me know your "strategies" for thriving on worry!
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