“Our life is what our thoughts make it.”
Marcus Aurelius, philosopher and ruler of the Roman Empire
Your uniqueness leads to thinking patterns that can never be the same as another person’s. Your worries are strictly your own in type and degree. The path to dealing more effectively with them will be distinctly your own. One size does not fit all. You will have to pick and choose what remedies apply to you.
It’s not likely that these remedies will fall into place in a straightforward manner. Many suggestions will be discussed in this and future posts. Think about each one and hang on to it if it resonates with you, otherwise discard it. You will be expanding your worry profile in a way that helps to develop your personal plan for improvement.
Often your worries are part of a lifelong pattern of thinking. It’s so automatic that you may not be aware how bad your thinking has become. Bad worry is rooted in thoughts based predominately on irrational or pessimistic attitudes referred to as cognitive distortions. For example, do you always:
- think things will turn out badly,
- expect the worst case scenario to happen,
- treat every negative thought as if it were already a fact,
- assume you won’t be able to handle the expected catastrophe, and instead will cave in at the first sign of trouble.
You have learned these bad thinking habits over the years. You have trained yourself to respond with this distorted thinking. But you can also undo these bad worry habits by retraining your brain.
Identify the distortions in your thinking
What thoughts are frightening you? Are they distorted? Typical cognitive distortions were already covered in detail in:
The common distortions include:
- Focussing on negatives
- Expecting the worst
- “Should” statements
- Living in the past
- “What if” thinking
- All-or-nothing thinking
- Catastrophic thinking
- Mind reading
- Letting your feelings take over
For more information on these common cognitive disorders refer to Robert L. Leahy’s The Worry Cure, Harmony Books, New York, 2005.
Stop viewing your anxious thoughts and beliefs as a permanent reality
Your brain treats your anxious thoughts as if they are real. Instead treat them as hypotheses you’re testing out. Turn your thinking into a problem solving game that questions the worried thought (belief) with the goal of determining what to replace it with. Some of the questions to ask are:
- What is the evidence that the thought is real and true?
- What is the evidence that the thought is NOT real or true?
- How has the thought affected you in the past?
Challenge the basic beliefs that cause you to worry
- What are your beliefs about yourself that cause you to worry and be anxious?
- What are your beliefs about other people that make you anxious?
- What is the evidence against each belief?
- What is the evidence that there is some truth in each belief?
- How has each belief affected you in the past?
Is there a more positive, realistic way of looking at the situation?
- What’s the probability that what I’m scared of will actually happen?
- If the probability is low, what are some more likely outcomes?
- How does worrying help me deal with the situation?
- How does worrying hurt me in dealing with the situation?
- What would you say to a friend who had this worry?
- Would you be as critical of other people?
Understand, contain, and then master your emotions
Here’s where we can go off on a tangent. Many books have been written about feelings, most notably in my mind, Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. This series of posts will not examine emotional intelligence in detail. For now, let’s just say that instead of worrying, you should be aware of your feelings (i.e. anger, fear), embrace them, then quickly challenge the anxious thoughts that lead to your worrying. Rather than trigger your fight-or-flight response by imagined threats, replace them with clear problem solving thinking.
Develop a more balanced perspective
As you change worrying to problem solving you begin to move toward a more realistic and positive sense of the practical alternatives that can make things better.
“Worrying is like sitting in a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but it doesn’t get you anywhere.”