It is difficult not to worry nowadays. We live in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world (VUCA). This condition, only true to specialized areas like the military or business before, has now become our general reality especially when COVID 19 invaded our space and time since last year.
But we cannot allow our worrying to get out of hand. We will have a serious problem with worry if we are chronically anxious about future dangers or threats, we constantly make negative predictions, we ruminate and overthink of our problems, or we escape worry by distracting ourselves or avoiding certain situations.
Well meaning people try to help us by telling us to “just stop worrying”. This is the problem when we do not know how the mind works. Because the truth is, the moment you decide to not think of something, the more you will think of that something.
Try this. I will bet 1000 bucks if you cannot think of a tall, coconut tree, teeming with fruits for a full minute.
How was it? Chances are, the moment you said you will not think of the tall coconut tree with fruits, all the more you think of it. Because before you cannot think of something, you have to think of it first. That is the reason why it is counterproductive when we force ourselves not to think of our problems or worries.
So, what do we do? Well, there are techniques we can learn to address our maladaptive worrying.
First of all, we need to understand the nature and dynamics of worry. It is not just a mental process. When we worry, we enter into a cyclical pattern that involves our thoughts, our body, and our behavior.
For example, you hear firetrucks wailing at a distance, and then you see smoke somewhere near your house. You begin to think that it might be your house, and so you start to feel anxious.
At the physical level, your heart will start to beat faster, your breathing quickens, you get sweaty,your muscles tense, and other symptoms related to the fight-or-flight response.
At the behavioral level, you might take actionescaping the sound by covering your ears or you begin “checking” behavior by calling your loved ones if they are okay.
To control worry, we need to approach it on all these levels. Where do we begin? We begin by dealing with the physical stress reactions. How do we do that? By learning relaxation techniques.
Secondly, we address the thinking and feeling part by doing some risk assessment and worry exposure. Thirdly, we do intervention with the behavioral issues by doing worry behavior prevention.
All of these require learning and practice. The better we become at these skills, the more we will be in control of our worry problems.
In our next issue, we will specifically talk about how to implement these strategies beginning with relaxation exercises, then risk assessment and worry exposure, and then worry behavior prevention.