Fear is designed to serve our immediate, short-term self-protection needs. It is designed to activate ‘all-hands on deck’ and address the situation in the here and now. It is automatic and our friend.
Worry, on the other hand, is a different story. Sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking worry is helpful. Maybe we attribute worry to what motivates us to do things we need to do or protects us from bad things happening. But if constant worrying is perceived as helpful, it is only because we’ve created that belief system around that idea.
We’re not alone. This belief system is very common. Take a look at the top five worry myths that hook people and see if any get you.
1. Worrying will stop something bad from happening in the future.
2. Worrying about a negative outcome will prepare you for it.
3. Worrying helps you come up with all your options for a particular situation.
4. Worrying makes you feel as if you are actively doing something about the problem.
5. Worrying sometimes helps you avoid thinking about something else.
If you find some of these faulty beliefs might be contributing to your anxiety, you can learn to overcome them. If these beliefs are the way you see events or situations, you’ve reinforced the notion so much so they have become a habit in your way of thinking. The good news is habits can be changed with awareness, effort and practice.
In order to do this, you need to be aware of the times you are slipping into worry. When you recognize you are worrying about something stop and determine if these thoughts helpful or unhelpful.
They are helpful if they spur you to take a needed action, help you problem solve or remind you to take care of business for things you can control in the present. And then the worry dissipates.
On the other hand, they are unhelpful if you experience worry or anxiety over things you can’t control. They could even be about something you know is unrealistic or irrational. Unhelpful, right?
If your thoughts and feelings of worry and anxiety fall into the “unhelpful” category, you label them “false alarms.” One way to remember this is as Dr. Dan Siegel says, you have to “Name it to Tame it.”
You label your repetitive, unhelpful, worrisome thoughts false alarms because they are misguided attempts by your brain to protect you, by making you feel like there is something you can do. Even after you ruled out that possibility.
Here are your 5 steps to overcome constant worry:
1. Whenever you have an anxious thought or feeling, first determine if it is helpful or unhelpful.
2. If it is helpful, let it motivate you to do what you need to do. Then allow the anxious or worrisome thought to dissipate.
3. If it is unhelpful, thank your brain for trying to protect you and then label it a false alarm.
4. Turn your attention toward something else, something concrete in the here and now. Stop yourself from being pulled into thinking of the past or the future.
5. If it doesn’t start to go away, check to see if you are being hooked by one of the top five worry myths and then repeat step 4 until your worry stops being your primary focus.