Sunday, June 14, 2015

Breaking the Worry Habit: How putting your worry habit in check can reduce anxiety

The funny thing about worry is that it’s a habit, just like any other habit.  The good news is that habits can be broken, and you can break the worry habit if you stay conscious of your thoughts and learn to decipher between productive and non-productive worry.

Productive worry is the kind of worry that is helpful and leads to action that is necessary.  For instance, if you are worried about the condition of the tires on your car, that kind of worry may lead you to take action to check the tires and if necessary, get them replaced so you can be safe on the road.  This kind of worry leads to important and positive action, and then the worry process is done.

Non-productive worry is worry that is done simply for the purpose of worrying.  It is not productive and leads to no real action or change that solves the problem one is worrying about.  For instance, if you have already checked the tires, replaced them for the year, have already checked the air in them and they are well balanced and ready to go, then continuing to worry about them is habitual worry, and non-productive.  

Non-productive worry also has some magical thinking that comes with it that sounds something like this:  “If I just worry hard enough, then bad things won’t happen.”  But in reality, this thought makes no sense.  Logically, you can't control the outcome of things simply by worrying about them harder.

Worrying about whether or not your loved one will be safe on their travels may keep you up at night, turn your stomach inside-out, and decrease your appetite, but no matter how hard you worry about them, you can't control whether or not your loved one's travel will be safe.  So your worry would be completely non-productive and habitual.
Worry leads to a lot of nervous tension and anxiety, so learning to check your thoughts to see if your worry is productive or non-productive, is key in reducing your stress and anxiety.  If you find that most of your worry is non-productive, then you are simply in the habit of worrying for the purpose of worrying.  

You can begin to use something called "Thought Stopping", in which you notice when you are having non-productive worry, and then think to yourself, 'Stop!'  I won't listen."  You can even imagine to yourself the image of a STOP sign, like the one you see every day in traffic.  

In time, you can break the worry habit, but it will take the same conscious effort and diligence it takes to break any other kind of habit. 

Thanks to Alon for the photo "Worried!"