The limiting beliefs that keep you worrying
When you are in the midst of a problem, it seems reasonable that you would worry. You’re only human after all. A small amount of worry is ok when it is productive but when it starts to be all that you do, going over and over things, trying to solve the problem but not getting anywhere with it, it can become detrimental. In fact, it can keep you in the problem for longer.
Before we go any further, let’s look at what worrying is. The dictionary definition of worrying is to feel or cause to feel anxious or troubled about actual or potential problems.
Our thoughts have a lot to answer for. They are, as the definition above states, what can cause us to feel anxious or troubled about something. Your thoughts are not innocuous, falling on deaf ears as you think them. Sure they are just words but they are words with power. You know all too well that your thoughts affect you in a number of different ways. They affect your emotions and behaviours but also impact you on a physiological level too.
I talk a lot about thoughts with my hypnotherapy clients, how they can be more aware of them, identify any thinking errors they might be having, disputing the negative thoughts and ultimately restructuring them into something more supportive and useful for them.
I have lost count of the times that clients tell me that worrying helps them. This is quite a commonly held belief among people with stress and anxiety. Unfortunately, holding this belief can be quite limiting. If you think worrying is helpful, then you’re going to want to keep doing it and then you’ll be stuck with the anxiety or stress for even longer. Here I am going to talk about some of the most commonly held beliefs about worrying.
Worrying Helps to Prepare Me
Anxious people often believe that worrying helps to prepare them for situations and events. I get that you want to be prepared for things. And thinking about upcoming situations can indeed be useful to ensure that you have everything in order. However, worrying about it all the time and thinking about all those what-ifs doesn’t help you be more prepared. Just think about all those times where something happened spontaneously and you were able to handle it. You weren’t able to worry about it beforehand because you didn’t know it was going to happen but everything turned out ok. There are so many ways that you can help prepare yourself both physically and mentally for something that doesn’t involve worry.
Worrying Helps Prevent Bad Things from Happening
Some people think that thinking the worst is a good thing because then when something bad happens, they aren’t surprised (and disappointed) by it. Other people with anxiety think that worrying actually helps prevent bad things from happening. Worrying can indeed make you decide not to do something, to avoid a situation. You might think that this is preventing something bad from happening but the avoidance behaviour reinforces your worries, making anxiety worse. This is when fears and phobias can start to form too. There are no guarantees in life and bad things do happen but there are many ways that you can build your resilience and be more in control so that if something does happen, you can cope effectively.
Worrying Motivates Me
There are some people with anxiety who believe that their worrying motivates them to do things. I kind of see their point in that when we have something in our life we don’t want, we can strive to move away from it. However we need to know where we’re heading too otherwise we can lose momentum. But wanting to move away from and towards something and being motivated to do that has a very different result to worrying about the situation you are in or the goal you have set yourself. Let’s say you had a goal to start exercising regular, perhaps do Couch to 5k, in order to get fit. If you worried about every aspect of the programme, what shoes to wear, where to run, who to run with, will you be able to even run for 1 minute, how long will it take for you to get to 5k, is that even possible or are you going to fail and just stay put on that couch. I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t bother going for a run at all if I kept thinking all those things. I would not feel motivated. Realistic and measurable goals can help to motivate you, as can focusing on the benefits of whatever it is you want to do.
These are the most commonly held beliefs about worrying that I’ve come across over the years whilst seeing clients. However, there are more. Some people believe that worrying shows that they are a caring person and it becomes a part of their identity. They mistakenly believe that if they stop worrying, people will think that they no longer care about things.
A little like the belief above about how worrying helps you prepare for something, some believe that worrying is an effective way to problem solve, that they are taking action to help them out of their problem. But worrying is not the same as problem-solving and nor is it taking action. Sure there are some similar characteristics perhaps, looking at the pros and cons of something, and the positive and negative what-ifs. However, problem-solving tends to have a goal in mind and is more structured whereas worrying tends to be more chaotic and all over the place with no specific destination in mind.
And another belief is that worrying protects you from negative emotions. But this is so far from the truth. When you're worrying, how do you tend to feel? Not amazing I bet! You’re experiencing negative emotions as a result of the negative thoughts that you are having. They might be different emotions to the ones that you were trying to avoid but they are negative emotions nonetheless.
Do you recognise any of these beliefs in yourself?
If you are experiencing anxiety or stress, in order to break away from it, you need to be aware of whether you are holding any of these limiting beliefs about worrying and then recognise that worrying gets you into far more trouble than you perhaps once thought. And then it’s time to rethink those beliefs. What would be a more useful belief to have about what worrying does for you?
Just for a minute, think about something that happened recently that you worried about. And ask yourself these questions: What happened? Did the worrying really help you? Did it protect you? Prepare you? Motivate you? Prevent negative emotions or bad things happening? If you hadn’t worried about it, do you really think it would have been worse? Now imagine that you hadn’t worried about it, what do you think the most likely outcome would have been then? Would it have been better, worse or about the same as when you spent all that time and energy worrying?
It is very possible to gain all the perceived benefits that you get from worrying elsewhere. By learning a variety of ways to relax and destress, gain control over your emotions, build confidence and resilience you can become more prepared, motivated, and in control so that you no longer feel the need to worry.