Do you have positive beliefs about worry?
To find out, rate your level of agreement or disagreement with the following statements.
- If I did not worry, I would be careless and irresponsible.
- If I worry in advance, I will be less disappointed if something serious occurs.
- I worry in order to know what to do.
- If I did not worry, it would make me a negligent person.
- The fact I worry shows I am a person who takes care of their affairs.
- If misfortune comes, I will feel less responsible if I have been worrying about it beforehand.
- By not worrying, one can attract misfortune.
- If I worry less, I decrease my chances of finding the best solution.
These and other statements are in the Why Worry II scales, a psychological questionnaire which measures whether someone has positive beliefs about worry.
It’s an important topic. Many people are well aware they worry excessively and want a less worried life. At the same time, research confirms worriers also have positive beliefs about worry.
Worry shows I care, it’s irresponsible not to worry, worry prevents bad things from happening, worry motivates me, worry protects me from negative emotions – if you don’t question these beliefs, you are hardly likely to quit your worrying ways.
My last column detailed how there is a big difference between worrying and caring. What about other common positive beliefs about worry?
POSITIVE BELIEFS ABOUT WORRY
Worry motivates me: You may believe worry motivates you to do hard things you might otherwise avoid – for example, study for exams, complete work projects, and so on. But is this really true? Do you know motivated people who aren’t worriers?
Have there been times when worrying actually prevented you from doing things you wanted to do – for example, worrying about your health so much you avoided going to the doctor, worrying so much about your exams that you put off studying, and so on?
Worrying can cause you to feel overwhelmed, so much so you avoid tasks instead of confronting them.
Worry helps me to be prepared and solve problems: Again, ask yourself if you know well-organised people who don’t worry like you do. Remember, worrying and problem-solving are very different things. When you worry, it can feel like you’re doing something, but you’re not – you’re just worrying. If someone has a heart attack and is rushed to hospital, the doctor doesn’t say, “Wait a minute, I need to worry about this person first”. No, they get to work. Worrying is passive, problem-solving is active; don’t confuse the two.
Worry prevents bad things from happening: This is more of an uncomfortable feeling than a deeply-held belief. “I always worry about a plane accident before flying. I feel if I didn’t worry, the plan would be more likely to crash”. In reality, the plane will do what the plane will do – your feelings and worries won’t impact the outcome either way.
Many people are quick to acknowledge this, but add it “just feels this way”. This belief can tie in with the belief that it’s irresponsible or careless not to worry, but it’s not. At times like this, you may feel obliged to worry, but don’t let this superstitious thinking guide your behaviour.
Worry protects me from negative emotions: This is the belief that worrying offers emotional protection; “I should worry just in case something bad happens, so I can cope better”. This is problematic on various levels.
Firstly, would you really not be as upset if something bad did happen? Would worrying really cushion the blow that much?
Secondly, using worrying as an emotional strategy is only reinforcing the belief you can’t cope with adversity. In reality, research confirms when bad things do happen, most of us handle it better than we thought we would.
Thirdly, it’s also true that most of the time, our worries aren’t realised. The dreaded event doesn’t happen. All that wasted time, worrying, feeling awful – all for nothing.
Confront these positive beliefs about worry and think of the costs involved. Life is precious; don’t waste it worrying.