We all worry from time to time – it’s normal. However, worry can become a problem if it gets in the way of you leading the life you want to lead. There are many things that potentially we can worry about. These can be world-wide challenges like the pandemic bringing the potential for illness, fatigue, loss of loved ones, loss of employment and more. But often worry can also alight onto the routine, everyday occurrences as well. Being late, Being early, Forgetting whether we locked the door. Not having enough money to potentially pay the bills this month … and more.
What causes us to worry?
Anything and everything can become the focus of worry- even things that most people would see as a positive experience, such as a child worrying about receiving a school award. For example:
Family – arguments, illness, exams, job security, having concerns for the safety of those we care for.
Friends – upsetting conversations, trying to support others, finding new friends, what to say/have we said the wrong thing, feeling intimidated or laughed at, whether we fit in or are judged badly by our peers/worries about our appearance.
Other external reasons: – financial worries/debt, leaky roof, work building up, too much to do, broken boiler, challenges at work, too many demands.
Why do we worry? What purpose does it serve? If we do enough of it, it can really spoil our lives and even relationships. If you never ever worried about anything, then you’d be in trouble by now.
You could have stepped out on the road paying no caution to the traffic, or you may have suffered food poisoning several times because you paid no attention to food hygiene advice. So, without any worry or concerns about what may go wrong in life, we’d all run into some difficulty. Therefore, a degree of worry is protective and helpful.
What is worry?
People often think of worry as being helpful- they see it as thinking things through. Worry is often experienced as a ripple of thoughts and or images, like the tide worry comes and goes, but at times of stress never really staying away. Worrying thoughts have a negative impact on how we feel and what we do. When we worry, it can seem to us that we are problem solving. But worry often just involves turning thoughts over and over in our minds (rumination). It’s not the same as problem solving. Problem solving leads to actually solving a problem. In contrast, all that happens in worry is that we feel worse.
By keeping worries in our head, it can lead to a false sense of control despite it leading to more stress, worry and feelings of anxiety. It can become a habit – something we do repeatedly sometimes to the degree it interferes with our daily living and sense of wellbeing.
Let’s look at different ways that worry affects us as a whole person.
Emotional effects of worrying
When we worry, we can quickly feel anxious, or a range of other emotions such as feeling sad, ashamed, embarrassed, or frustrated. How we feel emotionally will impact on how we feel physically in our bodies, and can affect what we do.
Physical impacts of worrying
When we worry it has an impact on how we feel physically. These sensations can be uncomfortable and for some people can create very significant symptoms. For example, emotional tension often causes physical tension in our muscles. This can cause tiredness, and also pain – for example chest, tummy, eye or headaches or pains.
Behavioural impacts of worrying
Worry can affect what we do in various ways. Sometimes worry can motivate us – for example to revise for an exam. However, someone else facing the same exam might find their worry distracts them so they can’t settle or bring themselves to get motivated and focused.
Worry also often subtly changes what we do. We may choose to avoid things we see as difficult or hard. For example, we keep our head down and don’t volunteer to contribute at work, school, or home. Or someone might fall into subtle but unhelpful patterns of responding. So, saying no, when yes would have been fun. Or seeking reassurance where we look to others to make decisions rather than us. Avoidance can become another habit. In the short term we may feel better when we say no or avoid things, but in the longer term this only keeps the problem going and makes us less and less confident. Some people may push friends and family members away, isolate themselves, or perhaps fall into unhelpful patterns of self-soothing by comfort eating/eating too much, or by buying lots of things they don’t really need in order to feel better (retail therapy), or using alcohol or drugs to cover over anxious symptoms.
Worry and panic
If your worry keeps building, you may notice you feel increasingly physically uneasy, on edge, perhaps hotter/sweatier than usual, have an increased heart rate, feel sick, shakier, with even more of a dry mouth/throat, butterflies in our tummy, headaches, over breathing and even chest pain. These rising symptoms are part of the fight or flight adrenaline response – and usually occur at only a low level at times of mild worry. However, someone with higher levels of anxiety, such as those experienced during a phobia or panic attack will often notice many of these stronger physical changes at times when they feel acutely anxious.
Our chapter ‘In case of Panic’ in the Worry box book may help. (www.llttf.com – and see the Worry Box Book.)
The good news!
Despite the impact it can have on someone’s life, the good news is we can learn to control and manage our worry with a bit of practice. Whichever way worry affects us, using the ‘Worry Box’ book provides three tools to help change happen – Face it, Fix it and Forget it.
- Face It
It’s natural when we fear something to avoid it. It makes sense, doesn’t it? However, the trouble is avoiding things doesn’t fix them. It’s easy to fall into patterns of behaviour that make us feel safer at the time and we get that sense of relief. But in the long-term avoidance backfires and reduces our confidence – so our world becomes smaller and smaller, chipping away at our confidence even more.
Start by thinking about one thing you have been avoiding. Be specific, and ensure it’s something you’d like to overcome. Nothing too big so it seems too daunting, but not too small that it doesn’t take you forward. Visualise your end goal and then use our Face It Planner sheet to break down the journey to get to that end point one step at a time. Don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back at each step.
Click here to download the sheet
There are worked examples in the Worry Box Book.
- Fix It!
Is your worry caused by an external challenge or problem that needs to be tackled but seems too much to do? The good news is that if you’re facing one big problem in your life, all you have to do is fix the problem that’s causing it. It could a problem like paying a bill, or a relationship challenge such as a fall out with a friend, an upcoming exam, or having too much to do.
The first step is to cut the problem down into chunks, and tackle one manageable chunk at a time. Then you work out how you’re going to sort out each chunk, by making a plan and carrying it out. It’s called the Easy 4-step Plan (E4SP).
Problems are like climbing wall we need to know where to start and where to go next. The easy 4 step plan will help you climb any wall – and tackle any problem.
Click here to download the sheet
There are worked examples in the Worry Box Book.
Concentrate on fixing just one problem at a time – see www.llttf.com
- Forget It – respond differently to anxious thoughts
Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by worry? Does it seem like everything gets on top of you? Do you find yourself worrying about what other people ? What they’re doing, what they’re thinking, or what might happen? Does it feel like a cloud hanging over you, making bright days dull and spoiling your days and things you could otherwise be enjoying? Or are you worrying about something you’ve done or not done, said, or not said, blaming yourself for something, or anxious about what others think of you? These types of worries can become a habit going round and round in our minds (rumination), so worrying thoughts can feel very difficult to shift. If so, the third element of the Worry Box programme- Forget it– can help you respond differently.
Unhelpful thoughts are the opposite of helpful thoughts. They don’t serve any real purpose because they don’t solve problems or even provide helpful ideas or solutions. In fact, they make us feel worse – stressed and low, and can unhelpfully affect what we do (with avoidance and other unhelpful responses described earlier in this blog). Unhelpful thoughts are more likely to occur when we feel stressed or low, and then add to that stress so we feel worse and worse.
We can start to notice and spot our unhelpful thoughts using the Unhelpful Thinking Styles worksheet.
Once you have noticed which patterns of unhelpful thoughts you fall into, next, you can move on to using the AUTB Programme:
Step 1 – Label It: When you notice one of these unhelpful thoughts – don’t wait till you get upset by it. Instead take a step back and label it an ‘Unhelpful Thought’. This way it loses some of its power and you realise it’s just part of feeling upset, it’s not the truth, it’s just one of those unhelpful thoughts.
Step 2 – Leave It: Now you know what it is just turn your back on it, don’t challenge or argue with it, just let it be. Unhelpful thoughts love attention so don’t give it any and get on with what you planned to do anyway.
Step 3 – Stand up to it: Unhelpful thoughts can talk you out of doing things you’d otherwise enjoy. So, if the thought is telling you ‘Don’t Do It – you won’t enjoy it’ – then ‘Do it’ and test out how it goes. So, give it a go, and see what happens.
Step 4 – Be kind to yourself, -give yourself a break: We can often beat ourselves up when we feel upset or low in confidence. We might say things to ourselves that we would never dream of saying to a dear friend or someone we respect or care about. So, if your troubled by self-critical thoughts then pause and think ‘what would a friend say if they heard me talking to myself like that?’ Most of us are good at being kind to others or giving good advice – be your own best friend and take your own advice. Trust your own kind thoughtful words and ideas.
Step 5 – Look at it differently: Take a step back from your unhelpful thoughts. Give yourself good advice, put your thought or worry into perspective, consider how others would deal with it, and most importantly think about the facts, not your feelings. Give it a go – what have you got to lose?
You can access the AUTBP worksheet, course and linked book on www.llttf.com.
Further reading – and other sources of help
- You may also find our blog on shyness. Read the blog here.
www.llttf.com is available free of charge to anyone. Look out for the Living life to the full course, and the module on I’m not good enough/Building inner confidence module. Also, the linked thinking modules and worksheets (Why does everything always go wrong/Looking at things differently).
- Book for adults: The Living life to the full (Williams C J. 2018 ISBN 9781906564582) is available free of charge in every library across England and Wales (also available in the Welsh language in Welsh libraries ISBN: 978-191-324-5122).
- Overcoming anxiety, stress and panic: a five areas approach 3rd edition by Dr Chris Williams (2012) ISBN 9781444163148