Worry show I care.
One reason why worriers worry is because they have positive beliefs about worry, not least the unhelpful and untrue notion that worry is a positive personality trait, that worry shows you care and are a good person. If you really believe this, then you’re never going to kick the worry habit, because not worrying will leave you feeling uneasy and guilty.
Why is it untrue? Well, if a parent encourages their child to be adventurous in life (“you’ll be fine, don’t worry”), does this mean they don’t care for them? Of course not.
Similarly, say you worry about your daughter when she is out socialising and you continually text and call her. Your daughter is irritated but you say, “I only call because I care”.
However, if the purpose of your call is to reduce your own anxiety, then are you really being caring? Or are you just worrying and putting your needs before your daughter’s?
Worrying is not the same as caring. In his book The Worry Trap, psychologist Dr Chad LeJeune asks you to consider the difference between caring for your houseplants and worrying about them. If you’re away from home for a week, says LeJeune, you can worry about your houseplants every day and still return home to find them brown and wilted.
‘Worrying’, he points out, ‘is not watering’.
Similarly, he adds, the parent who calls her son multiple times a day, even though these calls interfere with his work life and cause friction in his marriage, is worrying about her son but not caring for him. The caring thing to do would be to respect his independence and his wishes.
If you are a worrier, then ask yourself: do I know caring people who don’t worry like I do? The answer, of course, is yes.
Similarly, ask yourself: do loved ones sometimes get irritated by my worrying? Do they really want me to be worrying? Are there ways I can show I care without worrying – for example, by being kind, loving, enquiring, funny, encouraging?
The distinction between worry and caring is an important one that can be applied to every area of your life. The question to ask yourself, says Dr LeJeune, is this: would I rather worry about my life or care for it? To answer, you must be clear what worry looks like and what caring looks like.
Take the environment. Worrying about the environment, says LeJeune, might involve having your water tested, reading data on air and water quality, thinking about the plight of future generations, and so on.
In contrast, caring for the environment might involve driving a low-emissions car, using public transport, recycling, buying eco-friendly products, volunteering for clean-up projects, and so on.
Worrying about your health might involve worrying you’re at greater risk of heart problems because a parent died of heart disease, seeking reassurance from others, worrying routine vaccinations might result in rare side-effects, checking your body for signs of illness, searching the internet for causes of symptoms or possible illnesses, and so on.
In contrast, caring for your health might involve maintaining a balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables, exercising regularly, keeping your immunisations up to date and following public health advice, not smoking or binge drinking, staying aware of your emotions and moods, keeping a healthy work-life balance, and so on.
Worrying about your finances might involve worrying about personal debts, or the performance of your pension plan, or how you will support yourself when retired, or what you will do if your rent increases next year, or how you will pay off your mortgage if you ever lose your job, and so on.
Caring for your finances, in contrast, might involve creating and sticking to a weekly budget, creating a debt repayment plan, meeting with a financial advisor, creating a rainy-day fund, asking your boss for a wage increase, applying for a new job, making a shopping list and avoiding impulse purchases, and so on.
The point is, worrying doesn’t show you care, it shows you worry – don’t make the mistake of thinking otherwise.
In my next column, I’ll explore other positive beliefs about worry and how to tackle them.