Challenging “Worrying is Dangerous”
If you thought that worrying couldn’t harm you or or that it wasn’t dangerous, how much would worrying bother you? Probably not very much. And if you didn’t see worrying as such a bad and dangerous thing, then chances are you wouldn’t feel the need to suppress your worrisome thoughts when they pop into your head. Remember, thought suppression actually isn’t helpful and ends up backfiring; making our anxiety worse.
Challenging your belief
In order to overcome ideas like, “Worrying will make me go crazy” or “If I keep worrying, I will have a nervous breakdown,” or worrying will damage my body or make me sick,” then you need to challenge this belief. This means examining what evidence you base your belief on; becoming a sort of detective trying to get the facts. It’s important to try to be curious and open minded while challenging your belief. This will feel very similar to when we challenged the idea the worrying was uncontrollable.
To challenge your belief, ask yourself some of these questions when finding evidence for and against:
- What makes you think worrying is dangerous/harmful?
- What’s the evidence for your belief?
- Exactly how does worrying cause mental/physical harm (be specific)?
- Is the evidence for your belief good/solid/reliable?
- Is there another way the evidence for your belief could be viewed?
- Is there any evidence that goes against your belief?
- How long have you worried for? What specific physical or mental harm has resulted over this time?
- During a worry episode have you ever become ill or gone crazy?
- Are there other explanations or greater risk factors for the illnesses you are concerned worrying will cause? (e.g. genetics, diet, exercise, lifestyle, smoking, alcohol, etc.)
- Can you think of other people/professions that are constantly under intense stress or anxiety, and have they all suffered physical or mental harm? (e.g. students studying for exams, people in stressful jobs- army officers, police, A&E department staff, etc.)
- How can you believe that worrying is both dangerous on the one hand and has many positive benefits on the other? (e.g. motivates, prepares, prevents, etc.)
Additional ideas to consider…
Sometimes people think that things like an increased heart rate, blood pressure, tension or adrenaline, which can often accompany worrying, are the culprit in explaining how worrying might pose a danger. However; another way to think about these things is that they all also occur when you engage in exercise, yet most people would consider exercise as something that is good for you. In addition, adrenalin is often used to save people’s lives during cardiac arrest.
These same symptoms are also part of our natural “fight or flight” response, which our body goes into in an attempt to protect ourselves. So, these very physical sensations of the fight or flight response as mentioned above are often used by people as evidence of harm and danger.
People may use the argument that “stress is bad for you”. But, are stress and worry the same thing? Stress occurs when we perceive the demands placed on us are too much. Worrying is then an unhelpful coping strategy in response to stress, and we can learn other more helpful ways to handle stress.
Things to consider about “Factual Evidence”
Some people may check their concerns about the impact of worrying on the mental and physical health by researching on the internet. Spending too much time researching your worries about health may be unhelpful, as it can just keep you preoccupied with your worry. Additionally, not all health information available in magazines, newspapers and on the internet goes through the same quality control process.
It can be very confusion when we receive mixed messages about whether or not we need to make changes to important things such as our diet, medications or other lifestyle choices. It can also be confusing when we receive mixed messages about the importance of particular symptoms and their relevance to serious health problems.
So, instead of searching “Worry and heart attacks,” you could try, “What causes heart attacks?” or “Leading causes of heart attacks.” Additionally, you can look at “Is Coffee bad for you?” and “Is coffee good for you?” to find alternating view points. This helps you to more effectively filter out good and bad information.
Nicole Paulie is a Counselling Psychologist, and co-author of “How to be Happy and Healthy – The seven natural elements of mental health.” She provides therapy in the Dublin city area. Contact us to learn more or to book an appointment.
This article was adapted from:
Saulsman, L., Nathan. P., Lim, L., Correia, H., Anderson, R. & Campbell, B. (2015). What? Me Worry!?! Mastering your worries. Perth, Western Australia: Centre for Clinical Interventions.