Dr Perpetua Neo

Your ideas about worrying make you worry more

But if I didn’t worry, I wouldn’t have clinched that 6-figure deal”, she said. “So, you think worrying is helpful”, I asked. To which she replied, “of course!” Even though we were talking about how to deal with anxiety. She’s not alone. A top consultant. A manager. A high-flying student. We all believe that worrying helps us be prepared for the worst. We believe that worrying prevents problems, and even solves them. Worrying is pre-empting. And pre-empting is good, right?

Yet whenever I ask my clients “What else did you worry about that wasn’t about the business deal”, they give me topics like finances, health, and relationships. One worry leads to another. The list goes on till I hear a resignatory and frustrated oh, I worry about everything. But more importantly, I hear, “My worrying is out of control”, “I am going mad” and “I cannot escape my mind”.

Researcher Wells calls these beliefs about worries “metacognitions about worries”. Broadly speaking, we worry because we have positive ideas about worrying. So we worry away to stop a bad future from happening or to solve hypothetical problems. Then in our minds where thoughts can become infinite, worrying metasises like a tumour. There is no off-switch once the momentum begins. At some point in time, we catch ourselves feeling the muscle ache. The knot in our stomach. Feeling on edge. Our heads feel heavy. And we realise we are worried about everything. And then the negative beliefs about worrying starts. The vicious circle plays on loop; we tumble into a downward spiral.

A question I get quite often is, how to this automatic habit- your very well-developed Worry Muscle– from taking control of your mind? It starts with knowing and mastering ourselves. First, by understanding our limiting beliefs about worrying. And how they are what causes anxiety. Then, tackling them so you know how to deal with anxiety.

What are your thoughts about worrying?

We all have different ideas about worrying. They’re likely to be mixed. So, what are your positive beliefs about worrying. Why do you believe this to be true? And, why do you think that worrying is bad. When you start thinking this way, how do you react? What do you feel, what sensations do you experience in your body, what sort of thoughts do you have when these happen? Here’s Salomé’s story.

Salomé believes that worrying is essential. When she moved into her apartment, she worried about all the things that could go wrong. She spent 5 hours compiling a list of handymen. She also started a Pinterest board on ‘Emergency Fixes”. Two years later, a pipe burst. Salomé panicked, but remembered her research. She called a plumber, and temporarily fixed the pipe. “Ahh”, she thought, “because I worried, things turned out great, and I didn’t have to replace the carpets”. In her mind, worrying leads to positive outcomes and prevents negative ones.

But Salomé worries about everything. She was watching Crimewatch- which she loves- where a thief posed as an old lady. Looking unsuspecting, he’d snatch your things and bolt off. Salomé started wondering, “Oh God, what if this happens to me?”. Time to worry. Six hours later, it was 430am, and she’d have to awake in three hours for work, where she is a senior manager. Still, she felt relieved that she had bought herself a top brand of pepper spray, and learned how to spot people in disguise. Throughout the week, Salomé was on high alert. Her thoughts raced wildly, and she kept researching on snatch theft. She was unable to focus. Suppressing her feelings only made her convinced that she was unable to cope with her mind.

how to deal with anxiety limiting beliefs

Salomé’s worry cycle

I drew Salomé’s worry cycle out for you, so you can draw one for yourself too.

Next step is to really break down these positive beliefs about worrying.

Would you have solved your problem if you didn’t spend time fretting?

Let’s go back to my client’s belief—“If I didn’t worry, I wouldn’t have clinched the six figure deal”. She thought further. The deal was important, and as a hardworking and responsible person, she would have worked on her pitch and deal anyway. And she would have had much more brain power and energy to deal with everything else. Perhaps she’d done a better job. Perhaps she’d enjoyed her life a bit more. Like being able to be fully present when her children were playing in the school performance rather than lost in her mind. And there, she unlocked her secret weapon on how to deal with anxiety.

As I’ve said before, being aware of your beliefs is knowing yourself deeply. And this is key to preventing you from tripping yourself as you overcome your struggles. Worrying overloads your brain, saps your energy, and steals your time. These precious resources could be better used elsewhere. Worrying doesn’t solve your problems- you do.

Not sure which thoughts are worth worrying about? Read this post to help you decide. Want to explore your beliefs about worrying further? Here’s an exercise for you. I hope this has helped you to understand how to deal with anxiety a little better. Leave a comment or Pop me a mail. I read every email. [Credit: Header