Worry can lead to anxiety. If this is happening often, you may wonder, “Why do I worry so much?”. Nearly everyone worries. I know that I certainly worry from time to time. Worry is something that we do in our minds. Worry is when we think about a chain of thoughts and images about uncertain events which could have a negative outcome. When we worry, we usually try to problem-solve the issue in our mind to prevent negative outcomes. Let’s look at worry, why it occurs, and how to improve your coping.
We might worry about how to get to the airport to pick up a friend, or that we will not be able to pay off the credit card this month, or that our car has been stolen. We call this ‘real event worry’. This is when we worry about real problems in our life.
Sometimes our worry about real problems might lead to us worrying about the possible ‘bad’ things which might happen in the future. This is called ‘hypothetical worry’. For example, your worry about picking up a friend from the airport might lead to you worrying about the plane crashing or there being a terrorist attack. Your worry about being unable to pay off the credit card may lead to you worrying about losing your job and the credit card debt growing so big that you go bankrupt. Your worry about your car being stolen might lead to worry that the car will be used to rob a bank and run over a pedestrian and that you will be in trouble with police because it is your car. If your mind is doing a lot of this hypothetical worry, then it is probably causing you some physical anxiety as well.
You might notice that your worry leads to some of the following symptoms:
• Feeling restless, keyed up or on edge
• Being easily fatigued
• Finding it difficult to concentrate
• Feeling irritable
• Experiencing muscle tension
• Having difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep
• Having difficulty in controlling the worry
To answer this question, you first need to find out how much you worry by keeping a record or diary of your worries. You only have to do this for a day or two to see the pattern. Record what you are worrying about and how much
anxiety it causes you. Make sure you record the big worries and the small worries. Rate a 10 for high anxiety, and 1 for low anxiety. This will give you a good view of how often you are worrying, and the kinds of things that you are worrying about, and the level of distress your worry is causing you.
You can decide if each worry is a ‘real worry’ or a ‘hypothetical worry’. This will help you change your worry behaviours, as you will soon see. If you notice that you are worrying quite often, and it causes a lot of anxiety, then you are probably worrying too much. Yet, you still may wonder, why do I worry so much?
We often end up worrying more due to many different little tricks that our mind plays on us. Here are the different tricks that might be occurring for you.
If you worry a lot, you probably have ideas that worry is helpful or necessary in some way. Worry is rarely helpful. Yet, you might believe that:
• Worrying helps me solve my problems
• Worrying motivates me to get things done
• Worrying prevents bad things from happening
• Worrying absolves me of responsibility if anything goes wrong.
It is important to work at letting go of these beliefs, as they only lead you to worry more. However, this is easier said than done and it is very difficult to not worry when you believe that they are helping to keep you or other loved ones safe. For that reason, I would recommend finding a psychologist in your local area so they can help you to challenge these unhelpful beliefs about worry and to let go of the worry and still know that you will “be OK”.
Even though you would like to solve your worry, you may problem-solve in unhelpful ways such as:
• Impulsive problem solving – hoping to have the problem ‘disappear’ quickly so trying to solve it too quickly
• Over-analysing – getting bogged down in all possible negative outcomes that are unlikely
• Trying to ‘not think’ about it
• Approach-avoidance – alternating between starting to actively problem solve an issue, and then avoiding the problem and just worrying again
There are many other forms of faulty problem solving that you may do. However, it is helpful to start improving your active problem-solving skills. This may help you develop a plan of action on important issues rather than continuing to worry. You may even be able to find opportunity in problems. You can search ‘Problem-solving’ to assist in practicing active problem solving. Try to notice if you are catastrophising (making the problem out to be bigger or worse than it may really be).
Even though you know that there is a 99.3% chance that things will turn out fine, you find yourself focussing on ‘What if something bad still happens?’. You cannot be certain that disaster will not occur, so you keep worrying, and it causes anxiety. This usually happens with the ‘hypothetical worry’ that we looked at earlier.
You may find it hard to let go of the uncertainty because the worry is about things that are very important to you such as your family, your health, or other important things. However, because you find this worry so distressing, you probably avoid thinking about it too deeply.
While avoiding the thought may lead to less anxiety in the short term, the thoughts will come back. You might also find your mind shifting and jumping from one worry to another, so that it does not have to think too deeply about any single worry.
Look at the worry in your diary record. This might show the themes of important areas that you worry about. Otherwise you can ask yourself, “If that worry were true, what would happen next…and next…and next?”. The important step now, is to practice getting used to uncertainty. This allows you to stop avoiding your worry, and learn to cope with it as a thought. This involves:
• Actively thinking about the hypothetical worry
• Allowing yourself to think the worried thought in all its glory
• Sitting with the anxiety – it will slowly go down over time as you get used to the uncertainty.
• Avoiding the use of unhelpful strategies such as: distracting yourself, or not clearly thinking about it.
• Sticking with it and making time to practice regularly. It takes commitment and practice to change your brain.
Now that you have a basic understanding of worry and why you might worry so much you can start practicing these steps. Take one step at a time.
1. Recognise and record your worries
2. Engage in clear problem-solving for ‘real worry’
3. Challenge your beliefs about worry being ‘helpful’
4. Prevent unhelpful strategies such as avoidance and distraction
5. Practice coping with uncertainty in hypothetical worry
Now you have some answers to your question, “Why do I worry so much?”. There are a range of other tricks which can cause and maintain our worry. There are also other steps that can assist in improving your coping with worry and how much it impacts on your life. It can be helpful to work with a psychologist on working through your worry, especially in identifying the exact reasons that you worry and why it keeps happening. A professional psychologist will work with you to undo the tricks that keep your worry going.
For further tips on How to Cope with Anxiety, we have prepared a free eBook for you. In this book you will find coping skills, breathing and relaxation exercises, and further detailed information on different kinds of psychological therapies for anxiety.
Wilkinson, A., Meares, K., & Freeston, M. (2011). CBT for Worry and Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Sage Publications Ltd: London.