Does your mind often leave the present moment and travel into the future anticipating negative events? Do you often feel anxious and restless, but have difficulty pinpointing why? If you answered yes, you may be a worrier.
From a CBT perspective, worry is a mental habit or bias in thinking. It’s the tendency of your mind to race to the worst case scenario and treat it as a realistic outcome, turning it over and over again. If you’re studying for an exam, you’re worried you’ll flunk. If you’re preparing to give a presentation, you’re worried you’ll bomb.
While everyone worries occasionally, chronic worry can be a problem and negatively impact your mood contributing to anxiety and depression. Worry can create the illusion that “we’re on it” or addressing important issue. But actually, once our initial worry has flagged a potential problem, continuing to worry is just useless cognitive churn. We’re not actually doing anything to address the problem.
As a CBT psychologist, I teach clients how to short circuit the time they spend in their worry mode by moving into problem solving.
Remember, the worst case scenario is definitely possible. Practically anything is possible. The more relevant question is: “How likely is it?” Is it greater than chance or far less?
Many of the things we worry about are possible, but unlikely and never happen. The way to determine the likelihood of the worst case scenario is by checking the facts. After translating your worry into a prediction and specifying a likelihood, write down the facts that support it, and the facts that contradict it. After weighing the evidence, if your negative prediction is more likely than you’re comfortable with, ask yourself what you can do to decrease the likelihood. In other words, how can you problem solve?
Once you’ve answered this question, throw yourself into problem solving. Rather than worrying about flunking the exam, study! Practice the presentation you’re worried about. You’ll find that problem solving can actually decrease your anxiety and many of your worries are actually just problems to be solved.
Dr. Lisa Napolitano is an expert in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and other mindfulness-based treatments. A licensed psychologist in New York and Florida, she is the Founder and Director of CBT/DBT Associates, a boutique psychology practice group. Dr. Napolitano is an expert in the treatment of stress, anxiety, worry, and emotion regulation problems. She has specifically designed her treatment approach for executives, attorneys, and other high-functioning individuals whom she believes shouldn’t have to sacrifice their careers to manage their stress and work on developing their potential.