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Taking Control of Obsessive Worrying

Worry is the cognitive-thinking part of anxiety that causes people to ask questions of a “what if” nature. For example, your manager putting a meeting on your calendar might pique your curiosity, but when anxiety is driving our thoughts, can quickly turn into you imagining a multitude of stressful “what if” scenarios, and usually ends with “what if she fires me?”. We think that if we can maintain high levels of vigilance in our thinking, we can prevent danger or control an outcome.


The reality is that worrying is, more often than not, unproductive, but has the illusion of feeling productive when we engage in it. If we hash out possibilities and options over and over, we think that we are doing something about our fears and anxieties. Most of the time, it gets us nowhere, and only winds up causing further anxiety.


Worrying can lead to a false sense of control and protection. How many of the things that we’ve worried about have been solved or prevented as a result of doing so? Chances are none.


Cognitive behavioral therapy techniques are one way we can reduce our worrying and negative ruminating thoughts. One such technique is to evaluate the worry, and determine whether it is productive or unproductive.


Track the things you worry about and ruminate on. For each worrying thought, answer the following questions:


  • What is the likelihood it will happen?


  • What’s the worst, best, and most likely scenario?


  • What is the likelihood it will come true? Give it a percentage.


  • If it’s a high percentage, or it has come true in the past, focus on how you can cope, or did cope.


  • Last, weigh the cost and benefit of worrying. Is some of the worry adaptive and helping? Is it causing undue stress? If it is causing stress and not helping you adapt or alter the situation, then free yourself of the unnecessary burden of carrying the thought further.


Most people will find that evaluating their worries leads them to find a more balanced and rational view of them. When not kept in check, worrying and anxiety can quickly snowball and lead to a skewed view of things. However, when used consistently, CBT for anxiety has been found to be 70%-80% effective in significantly reducing symptoms.

"It is never too late to be what you might have been." ~ George Eliot