What is worry?
Everyone worries from time to time, but worrying too much can sometimes become problematic.
Normal worry is generally short-lived and leads to positive problem-solving behaviour. Worry becomes unhelpful when it is:
- About a number of things
- Very frequent, and is difficult to control or dismiss
Prolonged or frequent worry generates more anxiety and more worry, which may actually prevent positive thinking and action.
What triggers worry?
Worrying can be triggered by various things. Some triggers may be more obvious and linked to external things, for example:
- Seeing a certain image (eg in the newspaper or on TV).
- Hearing certain information (eg on the radio or in a conversation).
- Being put in a certain situation (eg having to make decisions, perform a task, lead others, or face uncertainty).
Some triggers may be less obvious or internal. These may be:
Thoughts or images that seem to just pop into your head out of the blue.
An initial “What if…” question that comes to mind for no apparent reason, can even be a trigger for worrying. For example, the thought “What if I left the iron on?” might pop into my head. If I think “I probably didn’t” and decide not to worry about it, chances are I will forget about it, and the thought will slip my mind.
However, if instead I start to ‘chase’ the thought further (eg “The ironing board might catch fire and that will spread to the whole house.” “The house might burn down and then I will lose everything!”), then the original “What if…” question has now triggered a worry episode.
What maintains worry?
People who describe themselves as chronic worriers are often disturbed that they seem to spend much of their waking hours worrying excessively about a number of different life circumstances. They do not understand why this activity continues. They often ask, “Why do I do it?” and “What keeps my worrying going?”
There are two types of thoughts or beliefs about worry which work to maintain the worry, in a vicious cycle. These are negative beliefs about worrying, and positive beliefs about worrying. Unhelpful strategies such as avoidance and thought control also maintain worry.
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