All You Need to Know About Your Worry Addiction
By Linda S. Davis
You’re a chronic worrier. You begin to worry first thing in the morning and keep worrying throughout the day. You can’t fall asleep at night, or you fall asleep but you wake up at 4 a.m. going over your worries, ruminating. You even worry in your dreams. You even worry when there’s nothing to worry about. How can that be? you ask yourself. You’re probably in denial, you tell yourself, while a huge problem or danger is staring you right in the face. Or you worry about the fact that you worry too much. It never ends. You’re addicted to worrying.
Here’s Probably Why
You’re a very responsible person. You don’t like surprises or unexpected events. You want to be aware of everything at all times and not overlook any detail that might sneak up on you and create trouble. You believe that by constant worrying you’ll find a solution. You believe that worrying protects you; you think that by focusing on worst-case scenarios you will prevent them from happening. You’re a control freak.
Some Habitual Ways of Thinking that Get in Your Way
Personalization – “I am responsible for everything that happens in my environment. Whatever bad happens to me and my family is my fault and I should have prevented it.” The mental filter – focusing only on negative events, while ignoring the positive ones. This creates a cognitive distortion and fuels your worry habit with “proof” and “evidence” that life is dangerous and unpredictable and you always have to be on the alert. Emotional reasoning – Because you are feeling uncertain or worried about something, you believe that this is a premonition or a hunch that something bad is about to happen, rather than just a feeling. All-or-nothing thinking – You think only in black and white. If something is not perfect, it’s a disaster. Overgeneralization – If you make a mistake, you think that you will always make mistakes, that you’re no good and you’re a failure. Catastrophizing – using your imagination to create worst-case scenarios: It’s raining, the roads are slippery, your husband will have an accident. Jumping to conclusions – drawing negative conclusions on insufficient evidence. “He didn’t call me. He doesn’t like me,” “Shoulds,” “Shouldn’ts” and “Should haves” – expecting yourself to be perfect at all times and turning against yourself when you make a mistake or fail to control a situation.
OK. You realize this has got to stop. You want to quit worrying or obsessing but you don’t know how to go about it. You’re also afraid or reluctant to give up your addiction: though you know it’s bad for you, you don’t know if you can really live without it – just like with any other addiction.
In your effort to release your worry habit, there are two major areas you need to tackle: how to deal with the addiction itself, and how to deal with the worrying thoughts.
How to Deal with the Addiction
Set up a worry time. Deepak Chopra has said that if you want to quit a habit you’ve got to starve it. So this is what you will gradually have to learn to do. Set some limits: set up a special worry time and place and do your worrying only in that framework. Just make sure your worry time is not just before bedtime… Refuse to worry any other time except during your worry time. Learn to catch the drift of your thoughts and if they begin to stray towards favorite worrying topics, stop them. You can. It’s easy. Tell yourself and your worrying thought that you’ll give it your undivided attention during your worry time. Gradually shorten your worry time. If initially it was one hour per day, gradually cut it down to forty-five minutes, then half an hour, and so on until you reduce it to the minimum you can bear. Soon you will discover that you never really needed your worry habit, and you will also verify the fact that it didn’t accomplish a thing but get you upset.
How to Deal with Worrying Thoughts (during your worry time)
The best way to handle your worrying thoughts is by questioning them and refuting them. Realize that whatever you are thinking is a thought and not a fact. Question the thought: what evidence do you have that this thought is true? Is there a more positive or realistic way of looking at the situation? Does this thought help you? If a friend had the same thought about the same situation how would you advise your friend to change their viewpoint or thought? If you are afraid that something bad is about to happen, ask yourself what the actual probability is that what you are afraid of will indeed happen. If the probability is low, focus on more positive outcomes. Learn to tolerate uncertainty by not jumping to conclusions, by adopting the “wait and see” attitude. Release the idea that you must always be right and perfect.
You already know what your worrying is doing to you. You know how you fret and suffer over every little thing, how uptight and jumpy you are all the time, how your heart pounds at the slightest provocation, how you hyper-ventilate, clench your teeth until your jaws hurt (or grind them in your sleep), you know how you tense up your muscles and end up with all sorts of aches and pains.
Giving up your worry addiction is a decision that only you can make. If you’re really determined, following this simple advice will help you gain control over your anxiety and obsessive worrying, and safeguard your mental and physical health. The choice is yours.