If anything, all of that “advice” makes one feel even more depressed and hopeless. According to our own Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Liz Hale, while it’s good to rid ourselves of excessive, chronic worry, how we go about doing so, the actual techniques, determines our level of success in doing so.
Worrying can be useful when it propels us to take action and solve a problem. However, if we remain debilitated by the “what if’s” and worse-case scenarios in life, worry itself then becomes the problem. Relentless doubts and fears are immobilizing not motivating. Excessive chronic worrying is a condition of a brain-train…we learned how to make ourselves ill with worry. The good news is we can “untrain” our brains and cease being distressed with worry.
The most important way to stop doing what we’ve always been doing is to look at why we kept doing it in the first place.On one hand, our worries are troubling to us; we can’t sleep, we’re irritable during the day; and we can even see that our worries make us feel crazy and are damaging to our health. On the other hand, worrying often make “sense” to us. For instance, we may think:
WARPED WORRY MYTHS:
• Leads to solutions.
• Avoids surprises!
• Is responsible.
• Prevents mistakes.
Worrying about worrying keeps worry going and fuels anxiety, However, worrying about NOT worrying (the positive albeit erroneous beliefs about worry) is even more addicting. It’s harder to break a habit you believe somehow protects you and your loved ones. There is no benefit to chronic worry. Once you recognize that worrying is the problem – not the solution – you are back in the conductors seat of the brain-train.
My first tip comes in the form of an acronm for worry –
This comes from my all-time favorite book, “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.” Dr. Susan Jeffers directs her readers to say “Yes!” to the circumstances life presents. When I say “Yes,” I’m able to be creative with my solutions – my energy is not being zapped with the resistance and “No! This is not how it’s supposed to be.” She also has readers create a 3 X 5 note card with the words, “I’ll Handel It” written in bold letters. As you start to do your montage of “what if’s” you simply remember that if that happens, at that time, “I’ll handle it.”
One of the worst things we can do is demand certainty. There is no certainty in an uncertain world. The inability to tolerate uncertainty is the foundation for anxiety and worry. Chronic worriers have tremendous difficulty with unpredictability; meaning they have horrendous difficulty with life in general. So, worrying feels like it’s a way of predicting the future and controlling the outcome. You may feel safer when you’re worrying but it’s simply an illusion. Imagining worst-case scenarios won’t keep bad things from happening – it will only keep you from enjoying the good things in the moment.
Flood Yourself with Uncertainty
In the book, “The Worry Cure,” by Dr. Robert Leahy, there is a great discussion about “uncertainty training.” Nearly 80% of chronic worriers can be assisted with this specific training that has you practice the thought thousands of times that “I don’t know for sure” or “It’s always possible that something terrible could happen!” Once you accept that you can never know anything for sure, then you begin to recognize that continuing to worry to gain certainty is an absolute complete waste of time.
Trying to just simply stop worrying doesn’t work – at least not long-term. So instead of totally suppressing an anxious thought, I suggest we postpone it.
If we try to banish our anxiety it just becomes stronger. It’s proven helpful to postpone worrying until a specific period of worry-time. Another great book that further discusses a self-imposed time limit is “From Panic to Power,” by Lucinda Bassett.
Wait to Worry
Choose a set time and place for worrying. For example, in the bathtub, from 6:30AM to 6:50AM; .let all the worry hang out! This means that if a worry hits you during the day, make a note of it; you’ll have time to think and worry later, not in that moment. Your job is to enjoy your day and reserve your worry list for the appointed time of day.
Postponing worry is effective because it breaks the cycle of dwelling on worries throughout the day. As you develop the ability to postpone or withhold your anxious thoughts, you maintain a greater sense of control.
Finally, a tip that may sound surprising: face your worst fear head on…don’t soften it, but go all the way. Worry gives us something to do so that we’ll avoid imagining our worst-case scenario. The worst case scenario is usually some type of death – our own physical death or death of our loved one, the death of our careers, death of our external image, or death of our grades in school. Here’s what happens with prolonged exposure to the worst case scenario – without worry or other distractions – you’ll eventually become bored with the image and it will stop bothering you. “Women Who Worry Too Much,” by Dr. Holly Hazlett-Stevens is another excellent resource that dives into this research.
Face the Worst-Case
The only way through it is to feel it! Take the fear of getting on an elevator. If you get on an elevator a hundred times, guess what happens to your elevator fears? They significantly diminish. The same thing holds true for emotional imagery. Again, worry is a way of avoiding your emotions.
It seems that most of our worries often come down to failing – and the fear of failure. Failure is inevitable but not fatal. Progress is built on failures…and so was America! As I recall Christopher Columbus set out to discover a route to the East Indies. He failed…. and aren’t we grateful!
Dr. Liz Hale is a licensed clinical psychologist and a regular Studio 5 Contributor. Your comments and questions are welcomed! Please visit www.drlizhale.com to add your thoughts to today’s discussion or learn more about her private practice.