Want to stop worrying? Start here.
Chronic worry isn't easy to get on top of. For clients who present with worry as their main concern, there are several skills and techniques that we will cover in therapy. We'll cover insight around worrying, and where that behaviour (yep and we'll start calling it a behaviour too) originates. We'll look at the function of worry, and what it does and doesn't do for us. We'll explore triggers and how these relate to, and help to uncover, our core vulnerabilities. We'll learn some skills, including mindfulness and deferment ie. scheduling worry-time. We'll also examine the content of our worries and challenge unhelpful thinking. We'll cover responsibility bias, and evaluate the rationality of our worries.
But before we do all of that, there's one fairly significant obstacle that almost always stands in our way.
We need to let go of the worry.
And by that, I mean we need to let go of wanting to worry.
It will be easy for a worrier describe, usually in their first session, how their worries are dominating their lives. How the thoughts are persistent, relentless, unhelpful, and debilitating. But what usually takes them a little while longer to realise, is how much they rely on the worrying. If you're a worrier, have a think about how you'd would feel if someone could magically render you unable to worry at all for the next 7 days. How does that feel? I bet you experienced, at the very least, a small flash of panic.
Worry is a psychological strategy - a defence that develops in order to manage underlying anxiety. Worrying gives us a false sense of control . If this thing, whatever it is, is making us feel uneasy and anxious in the depths of our emotional mind, the rational thinky part of our brain will kick in and try to work it out. We're problem solvers, we can think it out. This is what protects us from harm. Except when it doesn't. Except when all the worrying does is give us more and more to feel anxious about.
image credit: www.josieeadie.com
Worriers feel that worrying, at least in some way, helps them and protects them. They worry about who they will be without it. How they will manage? At least some of their identity is usually bound up in being the prepared-one, or the planner, or the organiser, or the risk-assessor. Because of this, part of what we need to accept in order to let go of worry, is to trust the future version of ourselves, and that starts with believing in our own competence.
"Future me will handle it", becomes the motto. They will, they've got this. Trust future you.
B Psych (Hons), M Psych (Clin), MAPS
Elizabeth Talbot is a Clinical Psychologist and the Principal Psychologist at Clinical Therapy. Whilst Elizabeth enjoys her clinical work, she is also a lover of behavioural science and has a keen research interest in the psychology of decision making, moral reasoning, cognitive biases, magical thinking, and conspiratorial beliefs.
Content note: Unless otherwise labelled, all blog posts are intended as discussion pieces, and are not academic texts. Articles pertaining to research or making an academic argument will be labelled as such and include supporting evidence/references. All examples (including client names) are fictitious, to illustrate a point, and are not based on actual clients.