Last updated on August 28th, 2020 at 11:44 am
Many of us now have a lot more time on our hands. We can choose to view this as a positive opportunity for self-discovery. But it can be all too easy to move in the opposite direction and to succumb to a spiral of worry. Questions can swirl within our minds until we get stuck into a thick soup of distress. Worries such as, “Will my parents and grandparents stay healthy?”, “How can I find work if I am up against well-qualified people?”, “When will I see my friends again?” and “Am I coping with this in the way I should?”. Today I am going to discuss how worrying too much can affect you and explain the first steps that you can take if you are experiencing worry.
What is worry?
Worry can be defined as a “state of mental distress or agitation due to concern about an impending or anticipated event, threat, or danger” (American Psychological Association). Worrying can be a normal part of the broad spectrum of human experience. Timon and Pumbaa’s “Hakuna Matata” song from the beloved Disney film The Lion King might be catchy, but it is perhaps not a realist way to live! However, if worrying starts to negatively impact your life, then it may be time to try some self-help strategies and or seek help (see my notes at the end of this article).
Worries can be separated into two categories: practical worries about a current problem that we can do something about now and hypothetical worries about events in the future that we cannot act on (University of Exeter, Dealing with Worry).
For example, a practical worry could be “The car is making a strange sound, what if I break down or I could have an accident?” This worry is practical because it is about a current problem which needs to be addressed (you don’t want to be caught out like Penny from The Big Bang Theory, ignoring the check engine light!). You can create a plan to either solve the issue now or schedule a time to plan this at a later date.
Hypothetical worries could include questions such as “What if Ted leaves me?” (When you haven’t had relationship issues previously) or “What if I don’t get the job that I applied for?” (When you have already done everything in your power to write a great application form). These worries are often about something in the future, you may not have control over it and there might not be a solution.
I will always remember when the head teacher of a school I was teaching at introduced us to “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” by Baz Luhrmann. It is a wise, relatable and humorous comment on the authors’ experiences in life. A quote that stands out to me is “Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind.” Baz’s song perfectly shows how worrying about hypothetical situations rarely helps us to resolve these issues. Worries might seem important to us, but we cannot allow them to control our lives. We have to accept that the future cannot be predicted. If something bad unexpectedly comes along (which is unfortunately bound to happen in life), then we just have to deal with this within the moment.
Surprisingly, it can be quite difficult to categorise your own worries. Worries can appear on a spectrum, falling somewhere between practical and hypothetical. This is okay and just something to be aware of when you are trying to place your anxieties into one of these types.
How can worry affect you?
Psychologists use something called the Five Area’s model to help people to see how their anxiety is affecting them. This is achieved by breaking down a person’s experience of worry into five categories. The model also allows people to make links between different areas of concern. This is why the model is also known informally as the “Hot Cross Bun” model because as you cross-link the different areas, you can form a shape in the centre which resembles the popular British snack! Look at the diagram below to see what I mean.
This is the problem, event or person’s actions which caused you to worry.
Altered Physical Sensations
You might feel your heart racing, the palm of your hands become sweaty, you become more irritable or tired and you might have trouble sleeping. Everyone is different and might experience different physical effects depending on how worried they feel within that moment.
What thoughts crossed your mind? Were they practical or hypothetical worries?
How did the experience affect your mood? For example, were you frightened? Disheartened? Lonely?
How did your thoughts, physical sensations and emotions make you react to the situation? What did you do next? How did you cope?
During a therapy session, a therapist would ask the client to remember a time when they felt particularly worried or anxious. From this situation, the client would draw out a diagram (similar to the one above) and fill it in with their own experiences. The hot cross bun is optional!
A key benefit of using this model is it allows you to identify the vicious cycle of worry. Maybe you have fallen into the habit of worrying because you feel you need to? For example, you might feel like you need to worry excessively about something, or you will not be successful. Logically, you might recognise that this is counter-intuitive. But we are creatures of habit and making connections with the world around us. If you have always spent days over-preparing for job interviews and each time you get the job, this creates an association that you need to worry about the unknown and over-prepare to be successful. When in reality, you probably just need to practice questions related to the key skills of the job and have confidence in your qualities. Or, maybe your worrying allows you to put off doing something? You might not even realise that worrying has a certain function, or a hidden use, as you are so caught up in experiencing the worries! It can be a sneaky way for our mind to let us avoid doing what we dislike. But how can you start to you untangle your worries?
The first steps to dealing with worry
- Keep a Worry Diary
Use a diary to record your worries. Now I can practically feel some of your eyes rolling skyward as you read this suggestion. I can empathise with you. Keeping a diary hardly sounds revolutionary. After all, most self-help guides seem to start with some form of a diary. However, recording your worries is an important step. It allows you to become more self-aware of when your worries occur, what type of worry they are and which situations trigger them. If you are vehemently dismissive of diaries, my question would be “Have you honestly tried this method yourself?” It takes a great deal of maturity to be able to reflect on your experience and recognise that some of your thoughts are not helpful for you in the long-run. If you put the effort into keeping a worry diary for a week and sticking to this commitment, your self-insight will be your reward. You can download a worry diary template here (University of East Anglia).
What is my key tip for having a successful diary? Always make your diary accessible to you. The diary will be more authentic and valid if you write down your worry straight away. Otherwise, you might be straining to remember a worry you had a few days ago and this might cause unnecessary worry in itself! Be kind to yourself. Make it easy to record your worry. I can’t remember what I had for dinner last week, let alone what worry I had on Thursday night! Keep a notepad by your bed or in a safe place in your house that won’t be disturbed. If you are like a lot of people and you are glued to your phone, use a note app to record your worries (though make sure that you use a password-protected service like Evernote to keep your notes private!).
In looking through your diary you can begin to make sense of your worries and see patterns emerging. The next steps beyond this can be found in the help guide here.
2) Look After Yourself
It can be tricky to focus on the positives. Especially during these uncertain times, there can seem more to worry about then we could have ever predicted. That’s were Blurt come in! Blurt is an amazing social enterprise that has many resources that you can turn to when you feel down and in need of some self-care. The organisation was founded to help people dealing with depression, but I think that it offers great support to anyone in need of a little joy in their lives! I have enjoyed their BuddyBoxes in the past and they have a wonderful set of items available for FREE. I particularly liked hearing the perspectives in Quarazines, which is “created by young people aged between 0 and 24 documenting their hopes, dreams, fears, ideas, creativity, and unique views on life during Coronavirus lockdown”. No matter what you enjoy, try to give yourself a little less time to worry and more time to focus on what matters to you.
You can also read an amazing article about how to set yourself goals if you are experiencing anxiety. It was written by Functioning with Anxiety and it is a great blog that you can check out.
Hopefully, my post has given you an insight into what worry is and how you can start to understand it. Let me know in the comments section if you have found this article useful and if you have tried any different techniques to deal with worry or anxiety.
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Further Information About Seeking Help
If you are experiencing a crisis and need immediate help in the UK, then you can use one of the dedicated services through Mind.
Alternatively, if you would like some advice concerning a mental health condition, contact your G.P and ask if you can self-refer to a local service near you.
Low-level worrying can be resolved using self-help techniques, or by being guided by a psychological well-being practitioner. Worrying excessively can also be a part of generalised anxiety disorder, which can be diagnosed by a trained practitioner.
Header Image Credit: Pexels
Beth is forever curious about what makes people tick. She is a master’s degree graduate and former psychology teacher (AKA a proud behaviour nerd!). Autism awareness is a cause close to her heart – check out her fundraiser. Beth becomes her happiest self when she’s helping people like you to enhance your life.