So one of the biggest things people struggle with is getting caught up in thoughts. We’ve all been there at one time or another, where we have a distressing or scary thought and we just seem to replay it and the possibilities that (could) stem from it over and over in our minds. “What if I can’t complete that project I’m working on. What if I get a bad review? What if I end up losing my job from it? What would happen to my family? My marriage? My kids and their futures?” etc. I call this a worry tree. It starts with the trunk of the tree, which is usually an actual problem that needs to be, and can be, solved (e.g., “I need to finalize the analyses on my project tomorrow.”). Unfortunately, if we have any worry tendencies, that worry will branch into unsolvable, “potential” problems (e.g., “What if I can’t complete the project and I lose my job?” “What if I’m an embarrassment?”) and each of these thought branches can spawn new worry branches (e.g,, “If I’m fired, I’ll never get another job.” “I won’t be able to afford to educate my children.” “My wife my leave me.”). And I think it’s important to notice that these worries usually run laterally, existing sometimes all at the same time in our minds, with our conscious awareness bouncing from one to the next.
So why is this happening? Well, there are a lot of levels to this answer, but the first piece is that we tend to see worry as pretty helpful. For example, we may think that it allows us to be prepared for the worst-case scenario happening. Or maybe we think it protects us from bad things happening. Or we may feel that not worrying about something would mean we don’t care about it or the people potentially involved in it. Finally, worry also serves to try to decrease the anxiety that comes along with whatever bad thought started this cascade of thoughts in the first place. We’ll get back to this, but it’s important to realize that, although worry feels like an emotion at times, it’s actually a behavior meant to distract away from anxiety. Funny enough, people who tend to suffer the most worry are the ones who tend to have the most positive beliefs about why worry is helpful.
Before reading on to the next part of this series, ask yourself about your own beliefs about worry. Why do you do it? What kind of dangers could arise if you didn’t do it? What would not worrying say about you as a person?
And over the next day or so, have a look at whether your brain is creating any worry trees. We’ll learn more about those in the next part.
Please feel free to share your answers or thoughts about the post in the comments.