How to Manage Chronic Worry
Worry involves thinking and feeling distressed about a specific problem in the future, and can actually motivate you to anticipate and prepare for these problems. Although we all worry sometimes, when it becomes persistent and excessive, it can take the form of anxiety and make things worse. Chronic worry can affect your day-to-day activities, and is related to anxiety disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, nausea, fatigue and pain.
Why do you worry?
Your early experiences with your caregivers can determine whether you will be more prone to worry later on in life. If you repeatedly had experiences that did not allow you to feel safe or protected while growing up, for instance if you lived with overprotective parents, divorced parents, or if you had to take on the caregiving role for your parents, it could have caused you to develop a tendency to worry.
In specific situations, worry can arise because of internal cues such as sensations in your body, or because of external factors like an impending presentation or exam. Since the future is often unpredictable, you might worry about what will happen to you, your loved ones, your relationships or your work. You could also worry about losing something valuable that you already have, such as health, love, wealth, freedom or your life.
Worrying can mean that you take measures to prevent something bad from happening, and try to be more in control of the situation. However, if not channeled appropriately, it can also make you worry more. This can increase when worrying is not followed by the feared situation, since you can learn to associate worrying with the situation not occuring.
Chronic worry is also maintained by certain beliefs you may have about what worrying can do for you. For example, you might believe that worrying could prepare you for disappointment, or keep you motivated to solve problems; it might also make you feel safer or serve as a way to express your concern towards someone. If you tend to believe that worry serves any of these positive functions in your life, you may be more prone to worry often and for longer.
How can you manage chronic worry?
Chronic worry can seem uncontrollable and affect your sense of wellbeing. However, there are ways that you can manage your worry better.
• Recognise unhealthy worry. Although worry serves a function in helping you prepare for situations you worry about, dwelling on these worst case scenarios can make you feel anxious and helpless, and prevent you from focusing on other tasks. Learning to recognise when this worry becomes unhealthy can make it easier to stop.
• Plan. Use your worry constructively, to ask yourself what you are afraid of, what you can do for a more favourable outcome, and how you can prepare for an unfavourable outcome.
• Restrict the time you worry. Try to dedicate specific periods of time during the day to worry. Put off any worrisome thought till the allotted time. This can help you feel more in control of your thoughts, and reduce the effect of worry on other activities.
• Remind yourself that thoughts are not facts. Having negative thoughts about the future, and worrying about fearful events does not mean that they will happen. Try to distance yourself from your thoughts, and ask yourself how likely it is to happen and how helpful the thought is.
• Engage yourself. Engage in other activities like work, or something you enjoy like watching TV. Keep bringing your attention back to what you’re doing, and you will find that your focus will automatically be taken off the worry.
• Acknowledge how you feel. Suppressing your emotions can make them come back stronger. Your feelings can inform you that there is something that needs your attention, so try to accept the way you are feeling without judging or labelling it.
• Practise mindfulness. When you feel anxious, try to focus on your senses. You can name things you can see or hear around you, or pay attention to the sensation of the ground under your feet. This helps you stay centered and bring your thoughts back to the present moment.
If you have been struggling with chronic worry, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. An InnerHour therapist can help you.
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