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How to go from being a "Worrier" to a Warrior

Are you constantly worried about something? Are you worried about a lot of things? Maybe everything?? Do you stop worrying, only for another situation to get you worried again?

Guess what? You’re not alone!

Worrying is a normal part of human existence. Even though it feels unpleasant, worrying is useful for survival. The prefrontal cortex is a part of the brain that sets us apart from other species by providing us with unique cognitive capacities. It allows us to anticipate future events and experience subsequent emotions.

But sometimes worrying interferes with our life to a degree that it may be something more than just being overly concerned. It starts to interfere with our life and relationships in a way that we may need more than usual support.

Anxiety disorders are the leading mental health diagnosis in the United States. Although it's estimated that one out of five people suffers from anxiety, research demonstrates these statistics to be likely underestimated. Current numbers, however, show that a third of the adult population struggles with anxiety.

What does ‘worrying’ mean?

Although we would not call worrying a sport, it’s definitely an activity. An activity we can't see, but something we do, feel, and experience, nonetheless. That’s why it’s so hard to get stuff done when we’re worrying. Even if you don’t have an urgent deadline, you might worry instead of sleeping or worry instead of being present and in the moment.

So, why do we spend so much time doing it?

Worry serves a very important purpose: it allows us to avoid negative feelings.

A slightly different interpretation comes from a study in the journal Behavior Therapy, which indicates that worriers are hypersensitive to jolts of negative emotion. Worry acts as a buffer. It shrinks the gap worriers have to bridge between feeling good and feeling bad, but it also keeps them in a state of constant negativity.

“Worry is a chain of thoughts and images, negatively affect-laden and relatively uncontrollable. It represents an attempt to engage in mental problem-solving on an issue whose outcome is uncertain but contains the possibility of one or more negative outcomes. Consequently, worry relates closely to the fear process.”

-Borkovec, Robinson, Pruzinsky and DePree (1983)

Another study published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders, a 2023 study by Baik and Newman provides evidence for a theory as to why people engage in worry and rumination.

Worry vs. Rumination

  • Worry refers to repetitive negative thoughts about potentially unpleasant future events.

  • Rumination refers to repetitive negative thoughts concerning present/past difficulties—their meaning, causes, consequences—or the gap between one’s desired and actual life.

The difference between the two is that rumination is concerned with past or current events, while worry is concerned with future and potentially threatening situations.

For example, a person with depression may ruminate on the causes or meaning of his or her lack of motivation—whether it is the result of laziness, incompetence, past failures, etc., while they may worry about a future occasion or appointment.

Despite these differences, rumination and worry share much in common: They are both experienced as negative, repetitive, and uncontrollable.

Additionally, both are associated with mental illness. As described in the DSM-5, worry is common in most forms of anxiety (especially generalized anxiety disorder), whereas rumination is more common in mood disorders (e.g., depression).

Human beings have the amazing ability to mentally simulate future events. We can 'think ahead', which allows us to anticipate obstacles and plan effective compensatory actions. As long as it helps us achieve our goals, ‘thinking ahead’ can be adaptive. Worrying is a way to think about future events in a way that leaves you feeling anxious or apprehensive.

Anxiety vs. General Worry

Clinically, excessive worry is the primary symptom of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

Evidence shows that people with GAD experience ‘everyday’ worries, but these are often concerned with more unlikely or remote events.

The terms hypothetical worry and real event worry are often used to describe this distinction. Another important difference is that people with GAD worry uncontrollably since they worry habitually instead of in response to triggers. A distinction between ‘real event’ and ‘hypothetical event’ worry, and describes a continuum of ‘normal’ to ‘excessive’ worry. It also briefly describes al perspective of generalized anxiety disorder in which intolerance of uncertainty is viewed as a prominent feature.

Worry Chain

To worry means to think about problems that might happen in a way that leaves you feeling anxious or apprehensive. Worry is experienced as a chain of thoughts and images that can progress in increasingly catastrophic and unlikely directions. It is often experienced as uncontrollable and seems to take on a life of its own.

One worry often creates a sequence of following negative thoughts and catastrophic thinking.

Resource details: What is Worry

Most of us can foresee problems that might happen in our lives and spend at least some time thinking about what we could do to manage them. As long as it helps us solve future problems, worry is normal and useful. Worry is an attempt to manage and reduce uncertainty. Some people are more sensitive to (bothered by) uncertainty, and they tend to do more worrying.

Real vs. Hypothetical worry

There are two types of worry:

Real event worries

These are about actual problems that are affecting you right now.

Hypothetical worries

These are about things that do not currently exist but which might happen in the future.

How do I know if my worry is a problem?

Resource details: What is Worry

Everyone worries to some degree, but it becomes a problem when it stops you from living the life you want to live or if it leaves you feeling exhausted.

How do I become a Warrior instead of a Worrier?

Take a look at your own thoughts. How you interpret situations i s what matters regardless of the event itself. If you tend to be more pessimistic, you will naturally worry more. However, if you take a moment and re-evaluate your thought from a more neutral stance, can you notice a change in your physiology? Do notice changes in how you feel physically and emotionally. The more the body feels safe and grounded, the less it is going to send your mind into a state of overwhelm and panic. It's like, "yes, I know there is uncertainty, but there's also certainty, so let's focus on wha we can control."

Worrying is something everyone experiences, but when you create beliefs that support safety and control, you feel empowered to take the situation on rather than feeling victimized and helpless.

Practice cultivating empowering core beliefs and cognitions:

"I can handle this"

"I've been through harder things and got through that."

"I will figure it out"

"I am resourceful and have support"

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a great way to better understand your own unique belief system. By learning tools to manage negative cognitions, you are less likely to worry or feel anxious. Interested in working with me to learn more? Message me and let's talk.

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