Most of us will be affected by worry at some point in our lives, which means that most of us have been on the receiving end of “don’t worry about it”.
While this advice is well-meaning, most of the time, it does not seem to work. We may wonder why this is: We know that worry is not helpful to us, yet we can’t seem to stop doing it! So why do our minds have us “overthinking”, going over and over problems that we may not be able to do anything about, sometimes at the cost of us being able to live our lives?
We have a good explanation for this. Our minds have evolved to detect threats. We can see how this would have been beneficial to our primitive ancestors: We need to be able to look out for dangers in our environment so that we can anticipate them and act where necessary.
As our brains have evolved, we have developed extremely sophisticated reflective abilities. This means that we can think back to past mistakes, and project forward to consider possible dangers and threats that lie ahead. Although these reflective capacities are an evolutionary advantage and continue to keep us thriving, they can also lead to us to become very preoccupied with possible problems that lie ahead. When this very natural ability goes into overdrive, it can start to cause problems in our lives.
A good example would be spending lots of time worrying about a stressful project that is coming up for you at work. While it is useful to spend time anticipating things that might could wrong, when our minds become very fixated on all of the things that could possibly go wrong, this tends to impact our ability to be effective in the present. This is particularly problematic when we become very focused on potential dangers that are out of our control, such as tasks that have been assigned to other people.
What can we do to stay one step ahead of our minds?
If you know that you tend to slip into problematic worry cycles, being aware of this is part of the solution. Remember that you didn’t choose to worry, and it isn’t as simple as just being able to “stop”. This is why it can sometimes feel invalidating when someone tells you not to worry about it – you would stop it if you could!
Instead: Be kind to yourself when you find yourself worrying. Our minds are designed to worry, and if you find yourself thinking a lot about something, it usually means that it is important to you.
Try to recognize when your mind is slipping into unhelpful levels of worry. If you notice this is happening, acknowledge that your mind is trying to solve a problem that can’t be solved right now, and if you can, try to absorb yourself in something else. This is one example of where mindfulness tools can be used to great effect.
It may help to write down what it is you are worried about. Identify the parts of the problem that are within your control, and the parts that aren’t. Although our minds do not like uncertainty and lack of control, if we acknowledge that aspects of a problem are not within our control, it can help to release us from some of the worry processes that tend to unfold to solve the problem.
If you do find that worries are getting in the way of your ability to do what you want to and need to do, and you can’t seem to find a solution, then it could help to talk to a mental health professional.
If you would like to learn more, please contact us.
If you are interested in scheduling a session with Dr. Hannah Sugarman or have further queries, please contact us today.