Are you a worrier? If so you’re in good company! Many people worry, in fact it’s a normal process. However, if you worry excessively it can be linked to some types of anxiety problems, as well as other Psychological issues.
A Guide To Worry…
So first, let’s figure out what is ‘ok’ worrying, and what isn’t.
There are different ways that we can worry – for example, you might pick things apart in your head by analysing or exploring them in lots of detail. Sometimes you might also worry in pictures – by visualising bad things happening in images. A key thing is that worrying tends to be negatively focused, in which something difficult seems to get ‘stuck’ and go around and round in your mind.
Whilst it isn’t always the case, you might notice that worry is often focused on things happening in the future – and can sometimes be couched in terms of ‘what if…’ type thoughts. Of course, we can think over things from the past too – however we would often call this rumination instead of worry.
Two Important Types Of Worry:
‘Type One’ Worry…
Psychologists have a particular phrase called ‘Type One Worry’, which they use to describe those worrisome automatic thoughts and pictures that can come into your mind when you might not want them to. Everyone gets ‘type one’ worries sometimes, they’re perfectly normal – and are just a sign that your mind is active and doing what minds do – thinking things over! So as you’re going about your life, certain situations might trigger particular ‘type one worries’ popping up for you.
Examples of type one worries might be…
‘What if… something bad happens to my son at the weekend?’
‘Should I stay or go?’
‘What would I do if… my dad had an accident?’
One thing you might notice about type one worries is that they’re often your mind’s window telling you that there is some type of uncertainty in the situation you are faced with. This is really important because research shows that there is a very strong link between the amount we’re comfortable with uncertainty being in our lives – and the amount we worry. More about that later…
So, Why Cant I stop Worrying? One way to answer this is to look at what Psychologists sometimes call ‘Type Two’ Worries.
‘Type Two’ Worry…
These are the beliefs we hold about worrying itself. For example, we might have beliefs that worrying is helpful to us – for example, by preventing bad things from happening, or helping is be prepared for things. Sometimes people might also believe that by worrying it shows they care about something. People can also have more negative beliefs about worrying too – examples of these might be that by worrying they might make themselves ill, or that worry is uncontrollable anyway. Essentially ‘type two’ worries are your thoughts about your worrying.
This can sometimes be a tricky mix, because when we hold these types of beliefs it can often fuel us thinking about those type one worries even more! This because our mind has decided that it’s either a good thing to be worrying, or that we don’t have the ability to stop it ourselves.
What About Uncertainty?
Earlier we mentioned that uncertainty and worry are strongly linked in scientific studies. As well as having type two worries, we also know that lots of research suggests that people who report struggling with frequent worries often have a lower tolerance level to UNCERTAINTY. What this means is that they might struggle more with not knowing things, or things being unclear or ‘left hanging,’ compared to people that have a higher tolerance to uncertainty. One way to think about this is a bit like having an allergy to uncertainty. When someone is allergic to something it means that only small amounts of that thing lead to a big impact in the body. So the same is true with ‘intolerance to uncertainty’ – small amounts of uncertainty can lead to lots of feelings of anxiety for someone who has a low tolerance to bearing that uncertainty.
What’s The Point Of Worry?
So, one key reason people find themselves worrying is as a way to reduce the amount of uncertainty there seems to be in the situation.
For example, if you have just had a ‘type one’ worry pop up in your head, and you happen to have a lower tolerance to uncertainty – it’s likely that it will have made you feel anxious. That’s where the ‘type two worries’ come in. These are the ones that might tell you to worry more in order to get a good result and figure out an answer to the problem, or that you can’t control it anyway.
When all of these are mixed together people often find themselves thinking much more around the subject – usually getting more anxious about it in the process. The problem here is that often the mind thinks it is being helpful encouraging you to think through things – because ‘the more you think, the less uncertainty there should be…right?’
Wrong! People often find that the more they think around something, the more things they realise they actually don’t know – or the less answers they get. This means that they’re left with the same levels of uncertainty as before, but now they’re even more aware of them. This in turn tends to raise their anxiety – and then the whole cycle starts again.
What Things Can I Do To Stop Worrying?
It can be relatively simple to stop yourself worrying. However, although it’s simple, this doesn’t always mean it is easy as well! Have a go at the 3 quick ideas below to see how you get on. It’s usually a good idea to seek professional advice if you have struggled with worry for a long time, or if it is severely impacting on your life…
- Notice That You Can Move Your Attention
This is a really important place to start. Have you ever noticed that you can move your attention? In the same way you can move a spotlight and watch the beam highlight different things, you can move your attention. By doing this you can place your focus on either exploring a worry in more detail, or exploring other parts of your ‘moment by moment’ experiences. People can often struggle to get the full benefits of this skill because they imagine that they should be able to move their attention so much that the ‘type one’ worry that popped into their head totally disappears. This is completely impractical! In fact when people try to ‘push the thought out of their heads’, it usually just comes back even more.
So, instead, when you move your focus of attention, try allowing the type one worry to stay hanging – but unexplored. One way to think of this is a bit like viewing a shopping bag from the outside and seeing the writing on the outside of it, but not actually having a rummage through the contents of the bag!
- Try To Embrace Uncertainty
This is a key one to build up your tolerance to uncertainty. Like most things practice makes perfect. If you are keen to stop worrying then you will find this easier the more tolerant you can become to leaving uncertainty in your life. To begin the process of building up this tolerance, see if you can keep a list one day of all the things you come across that are uncertain in some way.
Next, see if you can become aware of all the things you do to try and reduce the amount of uncertainty you’re exposed to. For example, you might notice that you set two alarm clocks instead of one in the morning. This isn’t such a bad thing if you’re a heavy sleeper and need two sounds to wake you up. BUT… If you set two alarm clocks more as a way of dealing with the anxiety you would feel about the uncertainty of sleeping in accidentally, then you might add this to your list of uncertain things and specific behaviours you do to try and reduce the uncertainty. Bit by bit, see if you can drop these types of behaviours, to give yourself a little bit more exposure to the uncertainty. It is likely to feel uncomfortable and anxiety provoking at first – but if you’re able to do it without engaging in the worries a the same time, then very quickly you’ll notice the anxiety and pressure to worry decreasing.
- Test Out The Accuracy Of Your ‘Type Two’ Worries
We looked at the idea of type two worries earlier – these are the beliefs that we hold about worrying. Instead of exploring the situation that has triggered you to worry, why not turn your attention to the ‘type two’ worries instead? What is driving you to worry now? For example, is something telling you that it’s a positive thing to do? Or, is there a negative belief about the worry that is telling you it’s impossible to disengage from?
Either way – see if you can test out these beliefs by running some small experiments to see if they really are true beliefs. Often we find that they’re not! This can be a tougher one of the tips to try out alone, and you might find that having help from a suitably qualified and experienced Therapist could help you stop worrying in this area much more easily.
While this is only a brief answer to the question of ‘why can’t I stop worrying’, hopefully it has given you some basic ideas of what worry is about and what can keep it going. Try out the ideas above and see how you get on.
If you do need some help, our Therapy Team are experts in working with a range of worry and anxiety issues. Why not give us a call?