3 Reasons Not to Worry and How to Internalize Them
Learn how to reduce anxiety by countering the urge to worry.
Posted November 17, 2020
In one of my previous articles, I explained how the behavior of worrying serves as an attempt to avoid uncertainty. Uncertainty triggers anxiety, and we attempt to run away from the uncertainty by trying to solve it and get certainty in our heads. This sometimes gets us a reassuring answer for a moment, but it reinforces the worry cycle and creates more anxiety later.
The solution is to give up on trying to answer worried questions and instead leave them uncertain, unanswered, and unresolved. What you do instead is let go of trying to answer them and return the spotlight of your attention onto whatever you are actually doing in the present moment. Consistently doing this teaches your mind that uncertainty is not actually dangerous and reduces anxiety and worry in the long run. This is the principle of Exposure Therapy.
But sometimes, the mind comes up with really convincing reasons why you have to worry about this thing you're worried about right now.
Your mind says, "Sure, all those other things you've worried about before didn't really matter, but this one really is important, and you need to worry about it."
I think it's helpful to have some counter-arguments to your mind in those moments, and I'd like to present here some of the ones I find most useful for my clients.
I sometimes recommend writing these down on an index card and using them as quick reminders for yourself when you catch yourself worrying throughout your day.
This can help you give yourself permission to cut off the worry process and come back to what you're doing in the present.
Note that none of these have anything to do with the worries themselves; they are all about the futility of the process of worry, not the content of your specific worry. The content doesn't actually matter; it's the cycle of worry behavior that matters.
Note also that these are all arguments against doing the mental behavior of worrying, but that does not mean you can just automatically shut off the emotion of anxiety or the automatic thoughts that pop up (you don't control those). It just means that you can choose to stop putting any effort into worrying.
1. Worrying is not safe or necessary.
When you are uncertain and anxious about something, your mind implicitly tells you: "You need to worry about this because something bad will happen if you don't figure this out! There is a danger here, and worrying will save you from the danger!"
But in reality, worrying does not make feared outcomes less likely to happen. It does not solve anything; it only causes you to suffer.
One of the keys with all of these is always going to be to ask yourself, "What does my experience tell me about this?" Think back to the thousands of times in your life you have worried and ask yourself, has worrying actually ever saved you from anything? How many times have the things you're worried about actually come true?
2. Worrying is not responsible: You don't owe it to yourself or anyone else to worry.
Our brains often tell us that we have a moral responsibility to worry because our own well-being or the well-being of loved ones is at stake. But worrying doesn't actually do anything for anyone. It just happens in your head and goes nowhere.
If there's something you can actually do about a situation, decide on that quickly, do it, and move on. But that's making decisions and taking action. That's different from the act of worrying. The act of worrying itself does not help anybody; again, it just causes you to suffer.
3. No matter how much you analyze your worry question, you will not end up figuring out the answer.
The types of things we worry about are, by definition, uncertain. Yet, our brains tell us to analyze them and are not satisfied with anything but certainty. Your brain gives you false hope; it tells you that if you analyze this hard enough and long enough, you will figure out the answer, and then you'll feel better!
But again, think back on your experience and ask yourself: Has that ever happened? Of the thousands of times in your life that you have worried about something, how many times have you come up with an answer that actually satisfied you? How often has worry actually ended up making you feel better? When I ask my clients this, the answer is usually "never."
Flip that around and ask yourself how often has worry actually ended up making you feel worse? When I ask my clients this, the answer is usually "always."
If you always end up feeling worse and not better when you worry, ask yourself one more question: What makes you think this time will be different?
There are many, many reasons not to worry, and I will go over some additional ones in future articles as well.