Do You Worry Too Much?
Brian M. Murray, MS, IMH
How much a person worries is subjective and varies from person to person when it comes to what constitutes too much worry. Persistent and long term worry about life events can be disabling and frustrating not only to the worrier, but also to those around them. Worry is often the result of getting stuck in a negative thought pattern. Common side effects of negative thinking are anxiety, stress and depression. All of these patterns, taken to a level deeper, are often based on fear, whether imagined or real.
Worry has a common companion in the form of anxiety. Anxiety is a normal reaction to a perceived fear and when it is put in the right context, it is useful for survival by activating our fight or flight response. Being confronted by an angry animal or a dangerous person activates the response to run away or fight and defend. However, when fear-based worry leads to anxiety out of context, it can give way to unnecessary negative feelings. The cost of long-term worry adversely affects many areas of life that are critical for good health and overall life satisfaction and manifest in ways such as lack of job satisfaction and performance, sleep loss, impulse control issues and long-term depression.
There are a few techniques a person can use if suffering from unhealthy worry and anxiety. First is to challenge the thoughts that are associated with the worry. Thoughts can be challenged through self-examination by asking for the evidence that supports the thinking. If there is evidence that validates the worry, then the associated anxiety is valid. An example of this might be financial problems after long-term unemployment. However, if evidence is absent then what may be happening is cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions can hamper or paint a skewed picture of reality by creating a scenario in the thought process that has nothing to support its validity.
While there are many different types of cognitive distortions, some common cognitive distortions often associated with worry are catastrophizing, prediction and compare and despair. Catastrophizing is imaging the worst is going to happen in a given situation. Prediction is much like catastrophizing in that it attempts to foretell what is going to happen in the future with a negative outlook. Compare and despair is contrasting one’s situation with another, but only seeing the negative, thereby triggering a sense of hopelessness or anguish.
Chronic worry can be disabling, however it can be avoided if managed appropriately. Look for balance in thinking processes and challenge the validity of the thoughts. Hold the thoughts captive until an objective examination of those thoughts has been completed. When the perspective on a situation in life is changed, it can help resolve feelings of excess worry and anxiety.
Philippians 4:6-7 The Message (MSG) “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”