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Anxiety General Stress

Naturally, we want what is best for ourselves and for those we love. Thinking ahead to the possibilities of what could happen can in some ways look like planning and preparation… good things. Having a concern about something often sparks positive change, and a healthy dose of pressure often provides motivation for that change.

But when does it become an issue?

People commonly worry about their jobs, their relationships, and their children. Worry tends to start with a single thought and finds a way to keep going and multiplying. It spirals. It helps to examine whether the worrying is an appropriate amount or size for any given situation.

“You think that by imagining all the worst things that could happen, you can have solutions in place beforehand. But the reality is that since you’ll never think of all the possibilities, your worrying work is never done,” said Kat McGowan in her article, Taming Your Worries, published in Psychology Today.

McGowan interviewed Robert Leahy, President of the International Association of Cognitive Therapy and author of several books, including The Worry Cure. According to Leahy, worriers do react differently to scary situations than others. “For most people, confronting something scary is terrifying at first, and then quickly becomes easier to deal with. But worriers stay upset, rather than becoming less anxious over time.”

It would be wonderful to have assurance that nothing bad or unwanted will happen. However, life has a way of being unpredictable. “A worrier always wants more information, wants to be absolutely sure – and needs a perfect solution to the problem,” said Leahy. A compelling desire to gain a sense of certainty, and believing that certainty is attainable, tends to keep anxiety going, according to Judith S. Beck, PhD, and Robert Hindman, PhD, of The Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy.

Worrying tends to provide a false sense of control. Sometimes people believe that “it is important to worry in order to prevent danger; however, worrying actually leads to their continually overestimating danger over time,” and they may think, “I have to be on guard. I need to anticipate any problems that could possibly arise; otherwise I’d be irresponsible,” or “If I worry, I can figure out exactly what I should do,” said Beck and Hindman.

Worry itself stems from anxiety, which is “both a mental and physical state of negative expectation. Mentally it is characterized by increased arousal and apprehension tortured into distressing worry, and physically by unpleasant activation of multiple body systems—all to facilitate response to an unknown danger, whether real or imagined,” according to What Is Anxiety? published by Psychology Today. “Anxiety is meant to capture attention and stimulate you to make necessary changes to protect what you care about. Occasional bouts of anxiety are natural and can even be productive. Anxiety can be considered the price we humans pay for having the ability to imagine the future.”

How can I make it stop?

A problem with trying to talk yourself out of worrying by distracting yourself or telling yourself to stop will only work for a little while. Furthermore, “deliberately trying to shut out the disturbing thoughts can backfire, making them even more powerful,” Leahy said.

One key is to determine which worries are ones you can do something about. “Afraid that you are losing touch with your family? Take action – send your brother an email. Worried about money? Do something right now: start making a daily list of what you spend, or set up your bank account to automatically save a small amount of money each month,” Leahy suggested. Taking action can help remedy some of the fears and ease the worry. “One small change often has the power to take the edge off a big fear, and allow you to begin to address it without having it take over your life.”

Along the lines of taking action, worry tends to manifest when you are trying to avoid something that is difficult or uncomfortable. “When you think over what’s facing you, what makes you the most uncomfortable? Tackle that problem first, and your worries will begin to subside,” McGowan said.

Getting more comfortable with what is uncomfortable to you will improve upon your strengths to help alleviate fears. Making that a habit takes practice, and in time, you will begin to see the evidence and rewards for yourself.

In part two of this series, we take a closer look at ways to help ease worry.

If you need support in this area or in other areas of your life, The Refuge Center for Counseling is here to help you. You can schedule an intake appointment by calling (615) 591-5262 or by emailing [email protected] to discuss setting up an intake appointment, where our trained staff will connect you with one of our counselors.

Judith S. Beck, PhD, and Robert Hindman, PhD
Why Anxiety Persists
The Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy

Why Anxiety Persists

Kat McGowan
Taming Your Worries: Is worry swelling out of control? Here’s how to reign in your worry
Psychology Today

Psychology Today Staff Reports
What is Anxiety?