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All About Worry

What is worry?

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Human beings have the amazing ability to think about future events. 'Thinking ahead’ means that we can anticipate obstacles or problems, and gives us the opportunity to plan solutions. Often, ‘thinking ahead’ can be helpful, like when we make plans to socially distance or plan about how to acquire a face mask.  However, worrying is a way of 'thinking ahead' that usually leaves us feeling anxious or apprehensive. When we worry excessively, we often think about worst case scenarios and feel that we won't be able navigate those worst case scenarios.

What does worry feel like?

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When we worry we conjure a chain of thoughts and images, which can progress in increasingly catastrophic and unlikely directions. When it becomes excessive we feel it as anxiety in our bodies too. Physical symptoms of worry and anxiety include:

  • Muscle tension or aches and pains.
  • Restlessness and an inability to relax.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Feeling easily fatigued.

Take a moment to identify for yourself how physical symptoms of worry manifest in your own body. If any physical symptoms immediately come to mind, list them in a notebook.

When we worry we conjure a chain of thoughts and images, which can progress in increasingly catastrophic and unlikely directions. Some people experience worry as uncontrollable – it seems to take on a life of its own. Many of us have noticed our minds jumping to the “worst case scenario” recently. To see how worries can escalate quickly, check out the “Worry Chain” graphic below.

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Worry Chain

Notice how this example thought process begins with noticing a headache and snowballs to worry about the end of the world.

Take a moment to reflect on a time when you noticed yourself engaging in a similar thought process.

  • What was your initial observation or thought similar to “I have a headache”?
  • What was your worst-case-scenario worry similar to “Imagining an apocalypse and losing everyone who I know and love”?
  • How did that initial thought escalate in your mind? In other words, what were the “chain links” that led you to worry about the worst-case-scenario?
  • Finally, what was the outcome? Did the earth-shattering event or worst-case-scenario outcome actually happen?

What are some triggers for worry?

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Anything can be a trigger for worry. Even when things go right, you might manage to think to yourself "but what if it all falls apart?". There are particular situations where worry becomes even more common, though.

Strong triggers for worry are situations that are:

  • Ambiguous situations – that are open to different interpretations.
  • Novel and new situations– where we don’t have any experience to fall back on.
  • Unpredictable situations – when unclear how things will turn out.

These are all familiar to us at this moment. The current worldwide health situation ticks all of these boxes, and so it makes sense that people are experiencing a lot of worry right now.

When does worry become a problem?

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Everyone worries to some degree, and some thinking ahead can help us to plan and cope. There is no 'right' amount of worry. We say that worry becomes a problem when it stops you from living the life you want to live, or if it leaves you feeling demoralized and exhausted.

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Worry Continuum

So, worry can be helpful when it aids you in solving problems in your life, and it can become a problem when it interferes with your goals for yourself and your life.

What can you do about worry?

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In the next four modules, you will learn about cultivating balance in your life, distinguishing real problems from hypothetical worries, practicing worry postponement, and treating yourself with compassion.

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