Bad worry is not productive. It generates no clear course of action. You don’t take the steps necessary to improve the situation. You waste time and energy. It can become a lifelong pattern of thinking that’s so automatic that you’re not even completely aware of it. Telltale behaviours include:
… repeating the same thinking pattern over and over without changing anything
Worry is defined by Webster as “a mental distress or agitation resulting from concern, usually for something impending or anticipated.” Worry is essentially a thinking process. Running over the problem in your head, time after time, makes you feel like you’re making progress. But you’re just avoiding taking the next step in the problem solving cycle.
… preparing and even more preparing
Trying to predict the future can become an endless task especially if you think you can control it and prevent unpleasant surprises. You
repeatedly check your facts, ideas, and what’s going on. You collect more and more information. “Analysis-paralysis” sets in.
… continually looking for reassurance
Talking to others is useful. It provides a soundboard to verify ideas or uncover alternatives. However, it can become excessive. You need to build up your confidence so that you can take charge instead of wallowing.
… being unwilling or unable to take the next step
As you strive for control and perfection, the time is never right to take action. You keep uncovering new worst-case scenarios. There’s always more to be done before you feel prepared to deal with them should they actually happen.
… avoiding uncertainty and risk
You find it difficult to accept unpredictability. You can’t tolerate doubt. You need to know with 100 percent certainty what’s going to happen and how to deal with it. But reservations keep cropping up, until they paralyze you.
… making mountains out of molehills
Unlikely events take over. You spend more time ruminating about things out of your control. You overestimate the possibility that things will turn out badly. Everything becomes a worst-case scenario. Your treat your negative thoughts as if it they were real.
… dwelling on the negatives
It’s as if your mind is a filter that lets only the negatives come through. Even when there are more positives than negatives, you concentrate on the one thing that went wrong. Dessert may not have turned out as planned, but the other six dishes were excellent.
… diminishing the positives
You minimize the chances that positive events may occur. You play down your accomplishments, claiming it was just luck.
You question your own ability to deal effectively with future problems.
… being afraid
You see much danger in the world, perhaps more than is really there. It’s frightening and scares you.
… letting your feelings take over
Anxiety and worry dominate your thoughts. You are losing your energy and will to fight the day-to-day battles. But feelings can work both ways.
… ignoring or avoiding unpleasant emotions
Worrying keeps you in your head, thinking about how to solve problems rather than allowing yourself to feel the underlying emotions. Your feelings are temporarily suppressed, but as soon as you stop, the tension and anxiety bounces back.
Many of these behaviours aren’t based on reality. Many are irrational. Others are pessimistic. These behaviours and attitudes are known as cognitive distortions. If you can break these bad thinking habits, the worry and anxiety they cause will stop. It’s not easy since you must retrain your brain.