A new study examines the difference between purposeful worrying and the problematic kind – now if your worrying spirals, there are ways you can stop it – but sometimes ‘good worrying’ is the key to quite a few health benefits.
I don’t suffer from strict anxiety per say, but I am a self-confessed chronic worrier. It’s an obsessive trait. I worry about today and the things that I might not do well enough, tomorrow for anything could happen and yesterday because what if I said the wrong thing? It’s an exhaustive cycle.
But I am a firm believer in being a ‘good worrier.’ Because worrying is usually viewed as a negative, it can be easy to forget that worrying has function and a positive one at that, provided you can utilise the worry into something good. If we spot potential problems and are concerned about them, this spurs us into solving them. I tell myself I’d love a life free of worry, but I know it’s not true; worrying makes me get s**t done. If I didn’t worry about keeping deadlines, I’d never write a single thing. If I didn’t worry about failing at my job, I’d never try to do it as diligently as possible it or continually strive to get better at it. And if I didn’t worry so much about how other people were feeling, I’d think I’d be self-absorbed to the point of unhealthiness.
The above is what’s known as ‘purposeful worrying.’ The worry is there for a logical enough reason. However, as any fellow-worriers will know, it’s the worry long after the worrying has been useful that’s the problem. The majority of us are not efficient worriers – we can’t just worry about the issue, solve it, then relax and move on – so we ‘worse case scenario’ everything and, as a result, the cycle never ends. That’s why I was both intrigued and relieved to hear of a new review paper in the journal Biological Psychology where psychologists explain what tips worrying from normal into problematic, and why it can be so difficult to stop once you get started.
Those who worry are far more likely to prepare for the future. Worriers prepare for worst case scenarios and tend to make healthier lifestyle decisions. It’s basically what we worriers have known all along.
Researchers explain that pathological worriers have “a kind of perfectionist approach. Once they start down a path of worrying, they feel compelled to work through every eventuality and solve every problem.” Okay, so I’m a perfectionist, but often this wears me down – running through every possible bad scenario leaves me no time to sleep at night – and it makes things worse; my initial problem is amplified times a hundred. However, the study assures there is hope and a way to break the bad worry cycle.
“Thinking about the idea of stopping worrying when you’ve had enough of it, rather than when the worrying is somehow ‘finished’ or ‘complete’, could be beneficial. Earlier research has shown that merely learning about the cognitive and emotional factors that feed excessive worry can help some people.” In other words: you and I can control the worry even when it’s not solved, instead of letting it control us until the very end. We are in charge of what we worry about, and if we can keep reminding ourselves that we can stop the worry when we tire of it, this will make the bad cycle break. It’s never a simple as “just stop worrying” (the most irritating, unhelpful phrase known to man) but I like the thought of envisioning the worry as one that can be put in a box and opened later, thus freeing your mind and allowing you to move forwards; a metaphorical “pit-stop” that can allow you to get on with the rest of your day.
So, instead of the critical inner voice telling you how brutal you are for not solving things right away, why not try to replace it with a more helpful one who says, yes, the worry will still be there tomorrow but it will be a new day and you’ll get through it, just like you’ve done every time before.