Breaking the worry habit

Many of you commented on how useful you found the Deepak Chopra post Time to Stop Worrying that I highlighted last month.  Chopra wrote that worry is like a mental smog and one of the least productive of all emotions. He is right of course, but the question for those of us addicted to worrying is how do we learn to control this useless habit.

Well, perhaps that is our first step – recognising that chronic worrying is precisely that – a bad habit we have fallen into. Those nagging, persistent thoughts, those “what ifs” that circle around in your head is part of an obsessive, habitual habit—and like all bad habits you can give it up.

If you are looking for a reason to give up the worry habit, well here are some worth considering. Worrying is stealing your energy, fatiguing your muscles and body, exacerbating your aches and pains, increasing your vulnerability to stress and infection, distracting you from the present, interfering with your sleep, inappropriately increasing or decreasing your appetite, and keeping you from more pleasurable or important tasks.  Convinced already?

Dr Leslie Sokol, director of education and one of the principal instructors with the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research and Dr Marci G. Fox, a senior faculty member in the Beck Institute’s training program, are coauthors of the newly released cognitive therapy-based book Think Confident, Be Confident: A Four-Step Program to Eliminate Doubt and Achieve Lifelong Self-Esteem. They offer this advice for breaking the worry habit.

  • Control Worry

Instead of listening to your worrisome thoughts, intervene before you get caught up in an unhealthy habit. A worrisome thought that crosses your mind is a warning signal. This signal may be appropriately alerting you to danger. In this case, the appropriate course of action is to examine the concern. First, ask yourself what is the worst that could happen? Second, ask yourself if this outcome is likely and probable? Third, ask yourself if the outcome is a real problem? Next, only if the concern is likely and presents a real problem, consider all your courses of action. Last, evaluate each course of action, and a solution that makes sense.

  •  Differentiate Realistic Concern from Worry

Realistic concern is a warning signal that you are in trouble. It’s the internal alarm system that indicates that you are indeed facing a difficult situation. Realistic concern is based on a specific upsetting, dangerous, or risky situation that you are NOW being faced with and are ill equipped or prepared to face it. For example, your computer crashed an hour before an important meeting and the vital information that you need is on your computer.

Worry, on the other hand, is thinking about things that might happen now or later with no credible evidence to support it. For example, not returning a phone call to a client by the end of the day and worrying that person may stop doing business with you and taking it as a sign that you will lose many more accounts in the future.

  • Stick to the Facts Ma’am

Thoughts pop into all of our heads. The key is to accept that every thought that crosses through your mind is not necessarily true. Worries are just fleeting thoughts that represent the concerns that preoccupy your subconscious. Before you let your worrisome thought wreak havoc on your system and stress you out, accept that just because you have a worry does not make it a true concern. Stick to the facts surrounding your worries. A key strategy is to ask yourself what evidence you have that the worry thought is true or not true. If the worry thought is true and based on real facts, then you can reign in your worry by examining your actual risk and reminding yourself of how you are equipped to handle the problem. However, if you find that you have no facts to support your worry, then it’s important to let go of it. Nothing in life is certain so letting go means tolerating that uncertainty.

  • Remember: You are a Survivor!

Think back to all the difficult situations and problems you have faced in life so far. Have you survived? Of course you have, you are here! The good news is that facing thorny situations just leaves you even more prepared for the future. Knowing you have battled these tough times reminds you of how resilient and equipped you are for adversity.