Why am I so worried?

Some people describe themselves as worriers - no matter what’s about to happen, however pleasant the forthcoming event, they feel anxious and expect disasters. Some people say they prefer to expect the worst so they won’t be disappointed. However, the majority of worriers are just hyper-vigilant. Perhaps they’ve lived with uncertainty at some point and this has made them wary. Worry is very contagious, so someone who grew up with a worrier is likely to have acquired the habit too. Similarly, some people develop a sense of responsibility for any troubles around them or have been blamed for other’s misfortunes. They then feel required to worry, as if this would stop problems.

Indeed, whatever the reason for worrying, many worriers hope worrying about something will prevent it from happening. Others believe worrying makes bad things happen, so they worry about worrying too. This takes up a great deal of time and energy.

Sometimes it’s possible to reduce the effect of worrying by managing it. A good way to do this is to work out exactly what you’re worrying about. Let’s say, for instance, that you’re worrying about waking up in time for an appointment. First of all, you could ask yourself how likely it is that you won’t wake up in time. If you normally do wake up when your alarm goes off, ask yourself why this is worrying you when your alarm is such a reliable aid to waking. Could it be that you’re actually worried about the appointment and are avoiding thinking about this because that would be even more unpleasant than worrying about sleeping through your alarm? If so, why do you not want to think about the appointment itself? Is there someone you could tell about your worries, something you could do to make the appointment go well, or could you reassure yourself that actually there isn’t anything to worry about after all?

What's the worst that could happen?

You could also ask yourself what bad thing would happen if you didn’t wake up or if the appointment didn’t go well. Obviously, waking later than expected would mean you’d have to hurry or you may even miss the appointment altogether. What would this mean? If it’s something that would be easy to rearrange, waking late won’t be the end of the world. If you were to miss a plane, however, a new flight could be an expensive nuisance to deal with. So what could you do to be doubly sure you’ll wake up? If you’re travelling with someone, it’s unlikely you’ll both sleep-in, so this may be all the reassurance you need. Arranging for a lift or cab to collect you offers extra assurance that you’ll be woken in time. Or you could stay overnight at the airport, book an alarm call as well as setting an alarm, and go to bed early.

Unfortunately, instead of making a plan to avoid what they fear happening, some worriers don’t identify what could go wrong, and take steps to avoid it. Instead, they make matters worse. For instance, they could do something like stay awake so they don’t miss the alarm but then fall asleep just before it goes off. Or they might take sleeping tablets or drink alcohol to deal with their worried feelings so that they actually do end up sleeping through their alarm. They then believe they were right to worry, as the worst did actually happen!

Seeking certainty

Many of us worry because we like to be certain about things. This is particularly true if we’ve had a period of uncertainty in our lives, especially when we were children. However, becoming more comfortable with not knowing actually offers more reliability than trying to be 100% sure. It’s always helpful to have a vague idea of what might happen, and maybe even consider what you might do if things don’t go according to plan. However, if you worry that disaster will follow if plans don’t work out, you’ll always be worried. Accepting that you may have to occasionally change a plan if circumstances alter will allow you to grow your confidence as you become more used to dealing with the (slightly) unexpected. A good trick is to ask yourself what you would advise a friend who is worried about the same thing, and then take your own advice.

If you find it impossible to talk to yourself reassuringly in this way, maybe you could ask a real friend whether they agree you should be worried. Some people think they shouldn’t need to ask for advice or help, but most people we ask are delighted to be useful. Often, help is available, or even just asking for a hug can make us feel so much better. Saying aloud what’s worrying us can ease the worry too. As we hear ourselves talking about our worry, we often find solutions occur to us, or we realise the issue isn’t as worrying as we first thought.

Schedule worry

If you find that it’s impossible to distract yourself from worry, can’t plan a way of avoiding something going wrong, or if telling someone about it doesn’t help, perhaps you could try scheduling your worry. Giving yourself a specific limited time of day when you’ll be free to worry means you’re free not to worry the rest of the time.

If you find worry is getting in the way of enjoying your life, it may be time to talk to your GP or a counsellor, who should be able to offer lots of ways to help you stop worrying or at least worry more productively. They may even get to the bottom of why you need to worry too. The point is not to think that worrying is necessary or inevitable to keep yourself safe. It’s possible to take care of yourself and avoid disaster without having to worry constantly. Honest.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, HP19
Written by Cate Campbell, MA, PGDip (PST), MBACP (Accred), AccCOSRT, EMDR EuropeAccred
Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, HP19

Cate Campbell is a psychotherapist specialising in relationships, psychosexual therapy and trauma.

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