Two Questions to Cope with Obsessive Worry

by Manal Ghosain on June 25, 2015

Worried

Do you consider yourself a worrier? How often do you feel you’re worried about something?

We all experience worry differently in terms of triggers, intensity, and frequency. Personally, I consider myself a chronic worrier.

It’s almost a constant state of fretting about something. Worry is one of the most important reasons behind creating this site. I started writing and exploring my behavior so I could move from worry to peace.

In the past few weeks I’ve had cause to worry. I’ve had to do a few medical tests to deal with abdominal pain. The tests are not unusual (for most people). But because I haven’t had any tests done for more than 10 years, the doctor requested so many tests be done that I felt overwhelmed, and anxious.

After I saw my doctor, I started worrying about when I should get the tests done, what I should do, and how to prepare. I added more anxiety with each thought.

Here is what happens with intense worry.

The worry paradox

I don’t think of myself as an overly brave or cowardly person. I tend to waver between the two, depending on the situation. But I can tell you for sure: I worry about everything.

Here is what happened in the last few days.

Wanting to get things done: I worried about the tests, so I wanted to get them over and done as soon as possible. I felt this drive to just do it.

Avoiding the unknown: Another part of me felt worried about the results. What if something is really wrong? Maybe I’m better off not knowing. Ignorance can be bliss. What if by bringing all these medical fears into my life I manifest an illness? Maybe I should drop the whole thing.

That’s the pain of worrying. It doesn’t stop. It works every angle of every situation.

There is no winning with worry because it deceptively feeds on our basic survival needs.

The Downward spiral of worry

Frequent worrying consumes mental and emotional energy. This in turn zaps our motivation, so we tend to avoid and procrastinate. And the more we avoid, the more we worry.

We feel so tired, yet we can’t sleep at night. Lack of sleep clouds our judgment, and makes us more susceptible to emotional reactivity—and more worry.

When we constantly worry, we create more reasons and situations to worry about. And we continue to spiral uncontrollably towards more worry.

What can we do about worrying too much?

I’m not sure if worry can be eliminated completely. I feel it’s futile to go to war with worry.

Instead, it’s best to gradually let go of the false survival programming by feeling the emotions that come up and letting them subside.

I’ve been meditating, for over a year, on letting go of wanting survival and the associated emotions that arise. I do feel a bit of relief and lightness—most days.

But this approach is not enough when I’m faced with something unusual, or infrequent, that the mind interprets as a life or death situation.

The following two questions have given me some needed relief. They’ve also helped me step out of feeling stuck in worry.

Two Questions that can help in dealing with intense worry

The first question is quite simple. It helps us frame the issue so our mind can put it in context instead of having a vague but intense state of worry.

1- What exactly am I worried about in this moment?

This is the first question and something that we all ask ourselves. But if you’re like me, you probably don’t give yourself enough time to fully answer the question and reflect on your answer.

A couple of examples below that I recently dealt with.

Example 1: Making a mistake

In the first case I took a test kit home, and returned the test the next day to the lab for analysis. I kept thinking about the test and what I did.

Vague unquestioned worry: I keep thinking about the lab test I just did this morning.

The specific answer: I’m worried that I’ve screwed up the lab test and that I’ll have to do it again.

Now I have something to look into: screwing up the test. So I’m afraid that I made a mistake.

Example 2: Expecting extreme negative outcomes

Let’s say I did some blood work at the lab and I needed to wait 24 hours to get the results. Those hours felt like months because I was obsessing over the possibility of something really bad happening.

Vague unquestioned worry: I feel anxious and keep imagining reading the report and finding out that my results are all out of range.

The specific answer: I feel scared that I might have cancer. The big C is very scary for me. It triggers past experiences of losing loved ones. My mind almost automatically interprets medical uncertainty as a worst-case scenario, and that’s cancer. I feel anxious typing these words.

Let’s see how the next question can help.

2- What would happen if the worry turned into a real situation?

This question is not intended to provide a complete shift in our thinking and behavior. But it can be helpful in calming an anxious mind by reminding us of the reality of challenges compared to our imagined worries.

Example 1: making a mistake

I can simply redo the test. It’s not the end of the world, and I’m sure I won’t be the first, or the last human, to make a mistake.

I will need another visit to the lab to get the kit. And the second time around I’ll be more familiar with the test. And hopefully I’ll do better.

Overall, I’ll probably need an hour. Is this hour of extra work worth 7 or 8 hours of anxiety?

Example 2: Expecting extreme negative outcomes

The second example is harder to accept because it’s linked to basic survival needs, and deeply embedded pain. But I can remind myself that I won’t be the first, or the last, person on the planet to deal with a serious illness.

Worrying about the extreme is not a good use of my time. I’m okay right now. Why would I waste my time worrying about the result, instead of doing something I enjoy, while I can?

This has helped me shift my thinking to focusing on what I can do now.

I finally managed to write this article instead of worrying about phantom medical issues, or fretting about writing and other routine stuff.

I can’t say I’m free of worry. But I can say I’m not stuck in worry.

The two questions above are quite common. The difference here is that we need to be specific and truthful.

Worry (like everything else in life) responds well to clarity and honesty.

Take one issue at a time, sit with it, and answer the questions. No one needs to know your answers. It’s between you and your mind. Then decide what you can do right now that’s helpful to you.

I wish you health and peace always.

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