We all have worries from time to time. What if my alarm does not go off and I am late for my meeting? What if the grocery store runs out of an item I need to make my dinner? What if I make a payment late for a bill and have to pay interest? These types of worries are common and experienced by many. They are often resolved through problem solving strategies or experiential learning. For example, an individual will venture out to the grocery store and investigate whether they can find the much-needed item. If not, then another store might be consulted or a different ingredient will be substituted. In either of these situations, an initial worry was channeled into an action and solved through an experiment of trial and error.
Individuals who experience significant ongoing worries and constant “what ifs” will often get caught up in the worries themselves and the very act of worrying will feel beneficial. Individuals who spend more than a few hours per day worrying about different areas of functioning (including finances, work, personal relationships, health and safety of others and self) may find themselves believing in different functions of the actual worry. Some will indicate that worrying draws them close to an answer or that worrying feels protective against bad outcomes.
When we experience the very events we fear, we can begin to work on overcoming uncontrollable worries. Avoidance never allows us those opportunities.
However, we know that ongoing worrying, in and of itself, does not actually serve any productive purpose at all. Also, when we tend to worry for prolonged periods of time it decreases our mood and we find ourselves stuck in a cycle of non-action where worrying is our predominant mode of being.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is one of the best treatment interventions known to help individuals who are experiencing ongoing worries and anxieties. Many individuals that have these types of pervasive worries will have been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. We know that continually pushing ourselves to face the things we worry about is often one of the best approaches. It allows us to learn that our feared outcome will not necessarily happen. It also pushes us to tolerate areas of uncertainty. When we experience the very events we fear, we can begin to work on overcoming uncontrollable worries. Avoidance never allows us those opportunities.
Individuals with generalized anxiety are rarely comforted by the idea that some events that they are worried about might happen, but only rarely. For example, some individuals might be very worried about flying as they fear their plane will crash. The fact that fewer than 1% of planes crash will seldom be a comfort. And individual will remark, but what if I am on the 1% of planes that do crash? The power of “what if’ing” is never ending because many situations in our lives do not really have any answers. As in many different areas of anxiety, the best we can often do is agree to live with uncertainty and move forward in a world that can never provide us with all the answers that we might be looking for.
If you experience uncontrollable worries, please reach out to us at Forward Thinking Psychological Services where we specialize in the treatment of anxiety disorders with CBT. We look forward to working with you facing your worries, decreasing your avoidance and moving towards what is important to you in your life.