I worry about everything! How can I stop?
anonymous Asks ...
What does it mean if I am always worried? To give you an example. I took my children to an outdoor puppet show last night. It was a really cool event and I should have been really enjoying it because the performances were spectacular but there was a threat of rain in the air and it was an open air event. I just felt this nagging undercurrent of worry and dread the whole time that it would rain and that it would all be a disaster. I don’t know why I was so worried because it wasn’t my problem to deal with, all we would have to do would be to dash to our car parked close by. But whenever the wind would gust a little I would just feel this dread and worry at the core of my being. And it kind of ruined my enjoyment of the show. This is just an example of how I worry all the time about stuff that is ridiculous for me to be thinking about. I also worry about my own problems but to start with I would at least like to stop worrying about other people’s problems. How do I do this?
Penny Bell Says ...
I will answer your first question first. Being always worried means you are part of the human race. Dogs and cats don’t worry, inanimate objects don’t worry, but human beings are experts at it. But the fact that your worrying, and your worrying alone, rather than any other discomfort or event, was what ruined your enjoyment of the puppet show indicates that worry and anxiety are interfering with your life and your enjoyment of it. You are right in your observation that it was worry without much purpose, considering that your worry was not going to affect the weather outcome one bit, you could have done nothing but take your kids to shelter if it did rain, and the event organisers would be responsible for everything else.
What you were doing is called “catastrophizing” – a cognitive distortion which is irrational and exaggerated, and in this case based on your general anxiety (which you say you experience continuously) that there will be a negative outcome. When the wind picked up a little you gave it meaning well beyond what was there – it meant that for certain it was going to rain, and not only that, that this rain would ruin everything. So a rustle of wind heralded a catastrophe of major proportions! Another cognitive distortion during the puppet show was “jumping to conclusions”. This involves reaching negative preliminary conclusions from little or no evidence. A subtype of this cognitive distortion is “fortune telling” – having an inflexible expectation of how things will turn out, once again, in a negative sense.
The best way to deal with cognitive distortions is to challenge them on the spot. We can do this in our heads whilst everything is continuing to unfold around us, with a bit of practice. There’s a handy way of doing this if cognitive distortions are your thing – write your challenges on a cue card you can keep in your pocket or bag, Here is an example of what you can write on your cue card:
What’s triggering my worry?
What do I think and believe about it?
When I think this way how do I feel?
On a scale of 1-10, how strong is this feeling?
What is a more balanced, alternative thought or belief?
How do I feel if I think this new way?
How would I scale the intensity of this new feeling?
Here is how this might look at the puppet show:
“The sky is overcast and there’s wind in the trees. This triggers in me a belief that it will most certainly rain and ruin the puppet show. When I think this way I feel fearful, sitting around an 8 or 9, and can’t enjoy the show. A better way to think could be that the sky being overcast doesn’t necessarily mean it will rain, and even if it does, it’s not the end of the world. Thinking this way lessens my anxiety to around a 4 or 5.
When you have learned to automatically challenge your cognitive distortions, you are well on your way to worrying less and enjoying life more.