What is worry?
It’s smart to my time to worry. At Legacy Counseling Service in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, Dr. Leedy helps people who worry for all sorts of reasons. We all struggle with this from time to time, some people more than others. You may be known as a “worry wart” or people may intentionally not tell you things because they know you’ll be overly worried. Worry is when we are anxious and/or uncertain about an event or the possibility of an event happening. When people worry they generally feel anxious, overthink things, think about the worse-case scenario, or agonize over the possibility of something happening.
Why do we worry?
We worry about things that are important to us. These things are worries because we don’t know how to solve the problem, we are afraid of the problem or what the problem might lead to, or we don’t feel we have control over the problem. Worry is a signal that means we need to pay attention to something…which is generally the thing we worried about! You can think of worry as an indicator light on your car. When the “low tire pressure” light comes on that’s a signal that you need to address that problem. Ignoring the problem is only going to make things worse in the future; planning time to address the problem is going to be the fastest way to resolve the problem without negative consequences.
What are the problems that come from worry?
Contributes to insomnia
- You might know the feeling of frustration when your mind is racing with worry and you can’t fall asleep. Or you wake up with your mind racing…arggg! Getting a good night’s sleep helps us worry less, but it’s sure hard to do when your mind won’t rest! The tips below about planning worry time may help, but if it doesn’t there may be other things contributing to your insomnia. Read more about insomnia here.
Makes anxiety symptoms worse
- Anxiety symptoms are a natural physical reaction to something that we believe is threatening. Sometimes the threat is real (a mean looking person is running towards us yelling threatening things), and sometimes it’s not so real (having thoughts that if I do X then everyone will laugh at me). When we worry too much about things and don’t answer our “what if” questions our anxious thoughts can get out of control. Or, we allow ourselves to think of the worst possible scenario without questioning how likely the scenario is to come true. When we start doing these things regularly normal worry can turn into an anxiety syndrome. Check out my other blog post to read about some of my recent struggles with anxiety.
Results in lack of focus
When we worry our minds are preoccupied with thing A, thing B, and thing C, and the list goes on and on. It’s hard to focus on something else when your mind is literally too full of other stuff to figure out! The problem is that if we never sit down to really focus on those worries then we can’t move that stuff out of our minds to make room to focus on other things.
Leads to physical tension
What happens in the mind is reflected in the body and vice-versa. When our minds are tense, our bodies will be tense. When our bodies are chronically tense we are at increased risk for physical injury and sickness, and inflammation (which makes chronic pain, autoimmune disorders, and insomnia worse).
Makes it difficult to make decisions
Worry tends to make us question our plans and our logic. We get lost in the “what if” cycle and get into analysis paralysis where it’s difficult to make even simple decisions.
Why is it smart to plan to worry?
- Frees up space in your mind to focus on other things
- Helps you sleep better
- Helps you prioritize the things you are worried about
- Helps you plan how to resolve the thing you are worried about
- Helps you figure out how to cope with the worrisome thing if you aren’t able to resolve it
How do You Plan Time to Worry?
Carve out a specific amount of time in your day to worry. Ideally, this should be time when you won’t be too distracted by other demands. Pick a place where you feel comfortable.
Set a timer on your phone, microwave, or watch for the amount of time you plan to worry. I recommend that worry sessions be between 20-45 minutes, depending on how many things you tend to worry about
Grab a piece of paper and draw a vertical line down the middle of the page. On the top left side of the page write “Worry.” On the top right write “Steps to Resolve Worry.”
In the Worry column, make a list of the problems and worries that keep running through your mind. One worry per line.
In the “Steps To Resolve Worry” column write down the next thing you could do towards resolving that worry. This should NOT be the final step to resolve the worry because most of the time resolving a worry takes multiple steps. Make your steps be something concrete that you can do immediately or within the next day or two. If you do know how to resolve the worry or the problem, then by all means write that step down.
If the worry is something that can’t be resolved, then write down how you can cope with that worry (e.g., exercising, decreasing caffeine use, limiting FB time, limiting watching the news, etc.). Here for additional tips on coping
Repeat steps 1-6 daily, or at least a few times each week, to better manage your worry. You will probably find that after you’ve done this worry exercise a few times over you are worrying less overall!
Dr. Leedy is a psychologist serving clients in Tulsa, Oklahoma and the surrounding communities. She specializes in helping people overcome worry, depression, insomnia, and adjusting to illness http://legacycounselingservice.com/insomnia-treatment/. If you are struggling with any of these issues and need some help, check out Dr. Leedy’s website at www.legacycounselingservice.com or call her at 539-777-1129.