Life’s too Short to Worry.

Life’s too short to spend your time worrying, and with this in mind I’ve taken pen to paper to write a short article about why some people seem to spend their time worrying and some don’t.

In a recent Juvenate article entitled ‘The 7 Signs of Worry’ we listed the common characteristics of a worrier, how worry affects their behaviour and also the consequences of excess worry in their lives, however this article looks not at the signs of worry but ‘why’ people worry in the first place.

So if you are one of those people who whiles away their time fretting about your life, other people’s lives and worries and about those things you can’t do anything about you need to read on. Also if you persistently make up things to worry about even if there isn’t anything to worry about or you catastrophise about the future then this article gives you a little insight into why you may be doing it.

What’s the use of Worrying?

To a degree ‘worrying’ is good for you, it’s an in built protection mechanism that takes out of complacency, it’s our bodies way of telling us that somethings not quite right.

Worry alerts us to possible danger, worry makes us hyper-vigilant to the things around us, the things that could harm us and in the right circumstances worry could protect us from harm and even save your live.

Worry is part of our survival instinct it is entrenched in our psyche.  

For me worry is a gut feeling that I have when something isn’t right, I tune in to my worries to alert me when things are not what they appear to be, in my experience as a doctor a sense of worry about a patient comes to me like a sixth sense honed by years of experience that there’s more than meets the eye.

Can You Worry too Much?

Some people worry far too much and to the extent it starts to affect their ability to cope. I have colleagues that I used to say would ‘cut their lawn with a pair of scissors if they could’, for them worry about all eventualities meant that even the simplest of tasks took them twice as long, their worry of missing something meant that that even getting through a normal day was difficult, uncertainty and change is never welcomed and their stress levels were through the roof.

With a life surrounded by excess worry, you actually fail to see what you should really be worrying about.

For some people excessive worry is part of their lives, they can’t turn their worries off, their  life become a cacophony of anxiety and dread that can even cause stress, insomnia and mental illness.

How do we Worry too much?

To get some clarity on how you worry lets look at the plant analogy, plants need water to survive, it’s the same with your thoughts and your worries because;

‘What you feed grows and what you starve dies,

and because worries bring with them fear of harm or negative emotions, it’s far too easy for these thoughts to stick in our minds at the expense of more positive thoughts and the more we feed these thoughts the more they grow.

Our brain is also excellent at learning things and swiftly develops new habits and thought patterns and with repetition our thoughts of worry can lead to habitually worry, and with this the ‘worried state’ becomes the normal state of mind.

In a hypervigilant worried state of mind you are on the verge of anxiety, physiologically the stress hormones are pumping around your body that could lead to a heart attack or a stroke and psychologically you are is the road to mental illness.

We worry because our thinking processes get distorted.

So generally if we practice worrying enough a worried state can become the norm, and with this ‘worried’ mindset we learn to focus on what worries us which may not be a true representation of reality, compounding this a worried state mind actually starts to construct its own worry in the world around us.

Yet specifically if we break down our worries there are a number of distorted thinking patterns that give us a clue as to why we are worrying;

The 7 Cognitive distortions of the worried mind.

1. Generalisation; Here we get into the habit of generalising the world due to our experience, an example would be after a knockback you could hear yourself say something like;

‘I’ll never get good at this’
‘nothing ever goes right for me’
‘this always happens to me’
‘nobody will ever love me’

To fix this catch yourself generalising and using words like never, always, nobody (these are called universal quantifiers) and question yourself if this generalisation is really true. (always? never? nothing? nobody? etc)

2. All or nothing thinking; this is when something happens and we fail to see the shades of gray, this thinking tends to link to a generalisation with a ‘so’ or ‘that means’ an example would be;

‘I didn’t have a good interview’ so ‘I’ll never get a job’
‘I put on 2 pounds this week’ that means ‘I’ll never lose weight’

Ask yourself does it really mean that?

3. Focusing on the negatives; (and deleting the positives), some people have amazing lives, surrounded by people that love them, yet they dwell on the bad things to the extent that they fail to see what they really have.

Perhaps step back and look around you and ask yourself what you are grateful for.

4. Catastrophizing, here you mentally automatically work your way towards the worst possible scenario, even when its really unlikely.

‘I made  a mistake’ that means I’m going to get fired, I’ll never work again, then I’ll lose my house and my wife is going to leave me and take away the kids” etc

The first step is to notice yourself doing it, perhaps this is enough, tell yourself it’s not true or even take the worry to the ridiculous until it ‘blows out’ and loses its power.

5. Labelling and Identity, sometimes after we worry we take it out on ourselves, we are meaner to ourselves and put ourselves down than any other.

‘I made her upset, I’m a really bad person’
‘I made a mistake, I’m a crap doctor’
‘She doesn’t want to go out with me, I’m so ugly”

Again catch yourself saying an expression like this and simply ask yourself does it really mean that, ask yourself what more you are than that.

6. Personalisation and taking on other peoples worries, some people have the habit of taking responsibility for others peoples problems or misfortune and blame themselves.

‘If only I’d been a better parent, he wouldn’t have done that’
‘If I wrapped him in cotton wool it would never have happened’

Sorry I’m sure you already get the gist already, there are things we just can’t control in life and blaming ourselves for other peoples actions is usually creates unfounded worry.

7. Jumping to Conclusions, this is when we over think a situation and suddenly jump to a negative conclusion when there is little evidence to back it up, this distortion is also called a

inference-observation confusion, I hear some great ones;

There’s mind reading; ‘She must hate me cos I’m fat’
There’s fortune telling; ‘I will never be able to do that because I’ll only fail again’

Ask yourself how do you know that’s true.

In summary

I think life is too short to worry too much, a little worry is a good thing it keeps us out of trouble, but the more we worry the more it happens, and the more we feed our worries the more they grow.

Worry leads to a ‘worried’ mind so perhaps if you have a problem with worrying you could work through the 7 Cognitive distortions listed above, spend a day on each of them and catch yourself saying them, question them and perhaps change how you think.

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