If you are a chronic worrier, you probably justify your worrying. You might believe it serves a productive purpose in your life...maybe you think it helps prepare you for unfortunate situations or aids you in problem solving. You might believe it helps motivate you to get past your problems or prepares you to deal with all the "what-ifs" life sends your way.
On the other hand, you know that constant worrying isn't good for you. It keeps you awake at night, takes away your focus during the day. It wears on your health. Chronic worrying has been associated with long-term health problems such as heart disease, digestive disorders and a weakened immune system. On a daily basis, your worrying might lead to muscle tension, irritability, dizziness, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat and fatigue. Despite the effect worrying has on your health, you might believe it is necessary as a way to save you from pending disaster.
A study published in Personality and Individual Differences in 2014 looked at the association between "positive" beliefs about worrying and the severity of worrying. In addition, holding on to these beliefs prevents you from letting go of worries, even when you know they are bad for your health. According to the researchers, the five main beliefs about worrying are:
- Worry helps in problem-solving
- Worry increases motivation
- Worry protects against negative emotions
- Worry prevents negative outcomes
- Worry makes me a conscientious and responsible person
Suppose you have an upcoming job interview. You spend several days before the interview worrying about it. You believe this worrying helps you better prepare. Because you worry about what to wear, you spend countless hours choosing your outfit. You go through all the possible questions your interviewer might ask, over and over, just to be prepared. You don't think of much else in the days leading up to the interview. Once it is over, you start worrying about how it went and whether you will get the job. You believe this worrying will better help you deal with the outcome, whatever it might be. You are sure your constant worrying shows how responsible you are, because wouldn't only responsible people worry about whether they are offered a job?
But your worrying might have caused other problems. You might have lacked focus in your present job, been irritable with your children and partner and caused you to deal with a stomachache or headache for several days. People around you might have said, "Just relax, don't worry about it." But telling a chronic worrier to stop worrying just doesn't work. You can't just stop worrying.
Instead, you need to look at your underlying beliefs about worrying. Why do you think worrying is a positive force in your life? What do you think worrying accomplishes? These are the beliefs you need to challenge in order to help reduce your worrying. Suppose you went for the job interview but didn't get the job. You probably spent a great deal of time worrying about it between the interview and being notified that you didn't get the job. Much of that worrying revolved around scenarios that you didn't get the job. When you are finally told the job had been offered to someone else, you aren't devastated. You believe that you were prepared for this setback because of your worrying. But by doing so, you shortchange yourself. You could instead think, "I am not devastated because I am a strong person and know that if I keep looking, the right job will come along." By doing so, you are not challenging your worrying, you are challenging the underlying reason that worrying helps you cope with life's disappointments.
Check out the following posts to help you reduce chronic worrying in your life:
Coping with Uncertainty
Learning to Accept Uncertainty
Chronic Worry: Can We Choose Our Worries?
When You Can't Stop Worrying: Create a Worry Chest
Overcoming Worry and Anxiety
Worried about Worrying
The Worry Script from AnxietyBC: Writing Your Worries Away