Addicted to Worrying: Movement in the Grass
Tell me if this describes you: When others are enjoying the moment, you are worrying about something you had said, or something that might, or might not happen in the future. Even when you solve one problem, your mind immediately finds something else to worry about. Sounds familiar right?
But worse than all of that, you might ask yourself: how come no one else does this? Why am I the only one that worries?
At this point you’re just about driving yourself mad, worrying about worrying too much about worrying other people don’t worry like you worry! It’s a self-perpetuating cycle of worrying madness. You ask yourself again, why does no one else experience this?
The short answer is: they do, and they just don’t talk about it.
But forget other people, let’s deal with you. Here are 3 things that might want to take into account when reflecting on why you worry, and how to deal with it.
I) Obsessing over problems, not solutions.
Worrying, when you boil right down to it, is you experiencing anxiety, and trying to deal with that anxiety by obsessing over the problem. Some people make constructive worry lists, which often turn out not to be so constructive. For example, some insomniacs often stay up at night worrying about the next day’s events, and believe that planning the next day’s events over and over again is a constructive way of dealing with these worries. Problem is of course, they often do the planning in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Sometimes a therapist will suggest that a client write a solution focused plan of tomorrow’s events, out of bed and much earlier in the evening. The therapist might even suggest for the client to keep the list and a pen next to their bed, in case something else comes to them in the middle of the night, thus reducing any changes of waking up in a state of anxiety, because the client can’t add to the list. This has been found to reduce pre sleep cognitive arousal, making individuals feel more relaxed, and ready for bed.
II) You’re an addict; Change the way you approach your perceived issues
Like any other addict, you can’t help yourself, you know it’s bad for you, but it’s like an itch, you have a strong compulsion to scratch. In kind of gets a bit Meta and weird when you really think about it; In many ways you are fighting your own mind’s desire to worry. You constantly have to wrestle with it for control over your own thinking. In many ways therapists often try and tackle these maladaptive thought processes by trying to change the way you both perceive the problem, and how you react to the problem. A popular approach within therapy is CBT, which, very briefly, attempts to change maladaptive behaviour by modifying people’s unrealistic thoughts and beliefs. In dealing with combating your minds desire to fixate on worrying, a relatively modern and ever growing field is combining CBT with mindfulness. What some might consider closer to meditation, the client is guided to pay attention to each event experienced in the present moment within their body and mind, with a non-judgmental, non-reactive and accepting attitude towards these thoughts. MCBT helps change the process of thinking, not just the content of thoughts.
The really cool thing about all of this is that therapists and research Psychologists have been working for some time on something called neurofeedback techniques, which help client’s self-regulate their brain patterns. If you are not convinced by talking therapy techniques, and feel you need something more direct, or more of a ‘hard science, then this might be for you. Or maybe you just like the idea of playing a computer game for 45 minutes? This will be right up your street. See my post on Men in Therapy to see how some people might enjoy this type of therapy.
Interested? Of course you are, because it’s awesome. Briefly, a non-harmful device is put onto the scalp of the patient, which measures brain wave activities, these brain waves can be viewed directly on a monitor or TV. When the client’s anxious, their brain waves have a certain pattern, but this pattern can be shaped to patterns which are present when the client is relaxed, focused, and more importantly, not worried. Simply put, by simply thinking it, you can directly influence your brain wave patterns, and you can see the results. Some psychologists have even made this into a videogame, in which your thoughts can make the game work as it is meant to.
III) A physiological, adaptive response that kept your genetic line alive.
There is compelling evidence to suggest that anxiety is an evolutionary adaptive mechanism which was vital in man’s history. It makes sense, being in a state of constant alert meant we (humans) could see a predator, in time, and run like hell before it could eat us. This seems to make a lot of sense, being constantly vigilant about movement in the tall grass, and ready to dart at a moment’s notice, is probably what allowed your ancestors to successfully pass down their genes.
Unfortunately, the brain takes a long time to evolve, far longer than society does, and so we are stuck with an ancient adaptive mechanism, which in today’s society is seen as undesirable and, as you are undoubtedly aware of, can cause mental health issues. Why is this helpful to know? Sometimes, knowing why you respond to stimulus in a certain way can help you accept it, tackle it, and spend less time worrying that there is something inherently wrong with you. Ten thousand years ago, your anxiety probably would have kept you alive longer than your friends. It’s a pretty cool adaptation, but like cyclops in x-men, it’s just something that you need to control, and use constructively.
This is not the article to go into therapeutic details, but try this: when you have that pang of worry, accept it, embrace that your mind has picked up on something worth noting, and do something about it. If you can’t do something about it, write it down, and tackle it at a later time, when you can do something about it. Remind yourself that this is a perfectly normal response, but you just have to learn to control it. There are many great techniques worth exploring in tackling worrying and anxiety, and I would encourage everyone to speak to a counsellor, therapist or psychologist about available strategies best suited to you.
On a final note, I said at the beginning of the post, worrying, and anxiety may be a perfectly normal response to what was originally a very dangerous environment. However, in saying that sometimes the brain over reacts to stimulus, leading to clinical depression, anxiety and a variety of co morbid mental health issues; If you are finding yourself crippled with anxiety, please consult a doctor or psychologist.