We all worry for one reason or another. Worrying is an inherent tendency of our mind as well as a constant problem with us. Worry refers to the thoughts and emotions of a negative nature, with fearful anticipation of poor outcomes. Most of us do have a number of concerns to worry about. As an emotion, it is experienced as anxiety or concern about a real or imagined fear or threat, often on personal matters such as health or workplace tensions. Most of us experience short-lived episodes of worry from time to time in our lives. Our brains are wired to worry first and think rationally later. It often becomes an automatic response to any perception of threat. Many of us will worry about virtually anything.
To a certain extent, worrying has positive effects because it prompts us to take precautionary measures or avoid risky behaviour. However, worrying often leads to distressing, negative, and often obsessive thoughts. Whenever there is a perception of danger, real or imagined, our mind keeps on deliberating and analysing until it’s overburdened with negative thoughts. There will always be some imaginary or real perception of threat involved in our everyday life. And the more we focus on the issue giving us worry, the more we attract the same in one form or another. The mind tends to create worst-case scenarios based on any imaginary fear. Unless we realise that worrying is a waste of time and energy and has deleterious effects on our health, we cannot fight against the mind’s inclination to worry.
Indeed, a number of studies have shown that worry not only puts strain on our mental health, but also on our physical health. Worrying in itself is not bad as long as it’s controlled. It prods us to prepare better for a possibly difficult event or circumstance. But this is at the cost of our happiness. Very often, when our worrying won’t quit, we experience difficulty in getting sleep, In the long run, worrying leads to many health-related issues. It even weakens our immune system. The problem with worrying is that it becomes a cycle of self-perpetuating negative thoughts. As we continue to worry, there is a steady flow of negative thoughts which we keep on repeating, with distressing variations, s until it becomes uncontrollable.
There is a famous saying that “whatever is going to happen will happen, whether we worry or not.” Most of the time, it’s merely a waste of time and mental energy. Fear of something tangible, or of the unknown with its attendant anxiety, are normal aspects of life. As long as our worries are limited and well managed, there is no problem. However, when we hold on to the same negative thoughts and fears, we fall into a vicious cycle. We invariably generate streams of associated thoughts. The scope of worry is thus enlarged.
All possible scenarios relating to the troubling subject run rampant through our mind.
The more we try to suppress those negative and toxic thoughts, the harder they become to control, Often we try to divert our mind to other activities, such as watching a movie, engaging in conversation with friends, or playing some game, etc., but that is of no help. Diversion of thoughts doesn’t help in addressing the worrisome issue. Usually, the more we try to suppress negative thoughts, the more frequently those thoughts resurface. Absent the art of managing our worries, we then start worrying about worrying itself!
Helpful ways to manage or overcome worry are often suggested by psychologists, clergy, and writers of spiritual books. However, I am highlighting only two of the most effective of these methods. Probably the best strategy to stop worry and rumination is the one based in mindfulness, which involves non-judgmental awareness of present thoughts and emotions. We can reduce the frequency of episodes as well as their severity through mindfulness. We should remind ourselves of how many times in the past our fear was imaginary or unfounded. This will surely help in understanding the cause of fear in the case at hand.
One must stop periodically during the day for a few minutes and watch carefully how thoughts that generate worry are creating anxious feelings. Mere awareness of those thoughts and feelings can have profound effects on their intensity. Negativity will decrease as we become more aware of what exactly is troubling us.
The second effective method to stop worrying is to accept the situation as it is, and then move on. Worrying about worrying is also a dangerous trap. A 2005 study in the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy showed that people who naturally try to suppress their unwanted thoughts end up being more distressed by those thoughts. Under many circumstances, the strategy of acceptance is a far better tool to stop worrying.
When worrying becomes a common or even uncontrollable companion, patients are treated with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It is a type of treatment that helps patients understands the thoughts and feelings that influence their behaviours. CBT is commonly used to treat a wide range of disorders, including depression and anxiety. The underlying concept behind CBT is that our thoughts and feelings play a crucial role in our behaviour. For example, let’s say a person is worrying all the time about some irrational belief. Before delivering a speech to a small gathering, he is thinking/worrying that he is a worthless person and that people don’t like him.
Quite often, worry is based on such obviously false beliefs. The essence of CBT is to help patients learn to change their emotions by changing their thoughts. There are several other tools to handle worrying. However, the most effective method is the practice of mindfulness, to improve one’s self-awareness and make a habit of observing circumstances in a non-judgmental way. Mindfulness is discussed in greater detail in separate chapter of the book.