When we’re anxious or stressed our mind has a tendency to focus on all the ‘what ifs’ and to steer towards the negative. It’s natural, it’s our friendly mind’s way of trying to seek out threats. Unfortunately the human mind is also very creative so it can take a difficult situation and catastrophise it into something far worse. Many of the worries we have are hypothetical, that’s to say, they are something that hasn’t happened yet, often unlikely to happen and merely stories our mind is feeding us with about future possibilities. If we can recognise our minds tendency to do this, we can learn to address it.
Certainly there will be times when worries are real and valid too, but it’s important to ask yourself whether worry is helping you. Is worrying really the same as problem solving? Is worry the same as taking action? If you can’t do anything about the situation at all and it’s an imagined problem, what are the consequences of continuing to worry about it?
Maybe worry was modeled to you in your family as a way to show you care and that you thought that if you didn’t worry, then maybe this would mean you didn’t care. As a fellow human being, I notice myself doing my fair share of worrying… I often worry about my teenage sons (let’s hope they don’t read this). I find myself worrying if they will get home safely. While my worrying shows that they are two of the people who matter most to me in life, the worrying doesn’t keep them safe and it only harms me. There are other ways to show I care, worry is not one of them! So knowing this, it makes it a little easier for me to begin to put my worries to one side and let them be.
It’s all too easy to get caught up in worry, and those who have anxiety will find themselves trapped in loops of worry. They’re so well practised at it, it’s automatic.
This post is to share with you a practical strategy you can use to begin to break this cycle. Of course this is only one tool but many people find it useful to pin down their worries.
The first step is to notice your worry. It might be pretty nebulous. It really helps to pin it down. Then follow the simple steps. Specify the worry. Is it a real worry or hypothetical - can you realistically do something about this? Then follow the steps in the diagram below.
You can download a full size Worry Tree pdf here. Print it out, hang it on your wall and give it a try, or share it with fellow worriers!
Ali Binns is a CBT counsellor in Bath specialising in anxiety disorders, including GAD, OCD, phobias. If you’re finding it difficult to cope with your worries, then don’t be afraid to seek the help of a professional. If you live in Bath, I offer private counselling sessions using cognitive behavioural therapy. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you would like my support.