The trouble with worrying is that it can get completely out of control and has a habit of escalating. Actor/director Woody Allen, a famous worrywart, illustrated this best when he said, “If I get chapped lips, I think it’s brain cancer.”
Worrying is a kind of “stuckness”. Worrywarts get stuck in identifying danger as they immerse themselves in the dread associated with the threat, which may be real or, more likely, imagined.”
Don’t think worrying is bad for you. Think of it as a mental fire drill, a thinking through of things that potentially might happen. It’s good to think over what could happen and to have a contingency plan. That is what productive and effective people do.
The problem is that the process generates anxiety. Worrywarts can become melodramatic and waste precious time. As American writer Mark Twain said, “There has been much tragedy in my life. And at least half of it actually happened!” Worrywarts can’t live in the here and now.
Chronic worry can evolve into panic attacks. The anxiety generates more worry, then more anxiety, then round and round you go. A twinge in your chest makes you believe you could soon have a heart attack, a news story about a home invasion 200 miles away keeps you up at night because you fear someone will break in when you’re asleep.
Learn to stop the worry cycle. You need to understand that just because you feel worried doesn’t mean there is anything wrong. It’s just your body reacting to those frightening thoughts you are thinking. Worrying is hard to give up.
Like a superstition, worry gives people relief and even reduces anxiety.
Who among us who has a fear of flying can’t relate to obsessing, when we have to fly, on the statistically improbable — the plane crashing. Worrywarts always gravitate to the worst possible scenario.
Learn to worry smart. Smart worriers don’t automatically flip into worrying, like a knee-jerk reaction. Smart worriers learn to soothe themselves so that they can bounce back from initial worries. Smart worriers learn “self-talk” — a kind of inner dialogue in which they talk to themselves the way a friend would, encouraging themselves and challenging extremes.
Smart worriers are hopeful, not hopeless. Smart worriers imagine positive possibilities, limit their worries to worry places or diaries, identify worry triggers, rate their worries on a scale of one to ten, challenge their worries, and learn how to under-react.
You can learn a new habit, but it takes effort. It’s easy to fall back into the habitual thinking pattern. Worry begets worry.