Worry is one of the most common reasons people come for counselling. It’s time and energy consuming, anxiety provoking and very distracting. It takes us away from actually being in our lives and instead living inside our heads listening to a never-ending documentary. To a lot of people worry can be mistaken as a form of problem-solving, yet it never quite pays off with a solution; summed up by the old English proverb
“Worrying is like sitting in a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere”.
When confronted with an issue or a decision, our minds leap into problem-solving mode. If we can work through the process, arrive at a plan, achieve clarity or simply acceptance, and then move on, there’s no issue. That’s problem-solving! However, what happens when the process gets stuck on replay, going around in circles, with no resolution or acceptance and going off on tangents that disrupt our happiness and peace? That’s worry!
There’s an important distinction between problem-solving and worry. According to worry researcher, Dr Robert Leahy, productive worry can lead to problem-solving and unproductive worry does not. Developing the skills to tell the difference is liberating. Our mind is a problem-solving machine designed to think, process, anticipate problems and solve them for our survival and benefit. For example, if we are concerned about paying a bill, our mind might become very focused on the issue leading to constructive problem-solving and decisions to resolve the concern with for example, setting up a budget. When we over-rely on the minds natural ability to think and over-think, we mistakenly believe that the situations and thoughts that our minds can generate must all be worthy of our full attention. Our minds can convince us that worries should be held onto and interacted with even if that is not warranted, creating circular and repetitive thoughts.
It can be useful to:
Psychologists can help develop skills to detangle from worry and increase understanding about the reasons for it. Sessions can be focused on developing techniques to cope with and manage the physical, emotional and cognitive impacts of worry and turn your attention to managing the worry rather than the worry managing you.