How To Turn Worry Into Appropriate Concern
It is not unusual for a loved one say to us, "I just want you to know, I worry about you." Worrying is an emotional reaction which plagues many of us. It is a self-defeating reaction to problems and stressors and does not lead to any practical resolution of issues. Worrying is a form of magical thinking whereby we believe that the exercise of worrying may actually keep us out of harms way. The practice of worrying provides us with a protective illusion that somehow makes us think that we are actually changing the outcome of events. If we worry persistently enough, we believe that things may hopefully get better for ourselves or others. We may feel that the habit of worrying demonstrates care and concern for those people we value.
Worrying is a futile exercise. The practice of worrying causes us to store psychic energy without affecting any behavioral change in ourselves or others. Ironically, worrying actually detracts from changing circumstances, because those who worry usually are focused on self-blame and protecting others from harm, rather than evaluating and resolving current problems. Those who worry tend to over-identify with circumstances and problems of loved ones. They tend to feel responsible for people rather than to them. The worrier tends to personalize the concerns of others and becomes immobilized by the significance of events. The worrier tends to catastrophize about events, thus making it hard to rationally problem-solve any circumstances of concern. The worrier becomes so identified with a problem, that he/she is unable to detach oneself from the emotional contents of the issue at hand.
Moving from worry to appropriate concern calls for a shift in thinking. It is important that the worrier begin to look through the lenses of current awareness. You can't worry if you avoid "looking in the rear view mirror" or quit anticipating and magnifying potential events. Staying in the moment is critical to moving toward appropriate concern. Many people worry because they believe that events must work out the way they want them to be. If events don't turn out as they expect them to go, then life must be unduly unfair and that would be horrible. It is wise to recognize that we do not have the kind of control over events and circumstances as we would like. Therefore, people who are worriers must give up the illusion of power. Life is the way it is, whether we like it or not!
Once we can recognize that it would be nice if things turned out the way we want, but not essential, then we can begin to evaluate our problems rationally. Since solving problems is a life-long pursuit, it is important for each of us to give up our illusions about the way we think events should play out. Having grieved what we think ought to be, we can begin to mindfully focus on present problems by prioritizing and chunking them down into smaller pieces. Rather than chastising oneself for mistakes or events outside of one's control, the worrier can now begin to appropriately reflect on what needs to be accomplished for change to take place. Many times, people who are overwhelmed by a problem take on too much responsibility which leads them to give up and repeat the cycle of self-blame. Setting realistic goals without blame, and working slowly through a problem or challenge is the best approach to accomplishing change.
Often, people have a difficult time mentally focusing away from worry. Sometimes scheduling a worry-time to engage the anxiety is helpful. When people try to voluntarily bring on anxiety, panic, and worry they find that it is difficult to do. It is difficult to consciously make oneself anxious because most anxiety is due to secondary symptoms. It is not our worry and anxiousness that is the primary problem, but rather our worry and anxiousness about our anxiety that sustains our self-defeating symptoms.
Moving from worrying to appropriate concern involves staying in the moment, staying out of self-blames, realizing that all of life's problems can't be fixed, and chunking problems down into smaller pieces that can reasonably be managed.
James P. Krehbiel is a licensed professional counselor and nationally certified cognitive-behavioral therapist practicing in Scottsdale, Arizona. He can be reached at krehbielcounseling.com.