Reality Check: The Behaviour of Worrying

Whether it’s a significant fear or just a twinge of uneasiness, most folks experience the state of “being worried” from time to time.

A variety of actions and thoughts come along for the ride when our main behaviour is worrying. Are there common threads? Well, the physical symptoms tend to be unpleasant and the thoughts tend to be unhappy. The actions we take in a worried state tend to lead away from, rather than toward, meeting our needs for love, belonging, fun, freedom, and recognition.

What are some characteristic worrying behaviours? Some people get physical symptoms: sick stomach, headaches, aches and pains, that lead them to a doctor. Going to the doctor often leads to taking medications. Those meds may (or may not) reduce the symptoms, and in some cases, they even cause additional, different issues.

Another type of worrying behaviour involves changing one’s social life. The worrier may choose to avoid people and refuse to participate in activities that would be fun. Their thinking: “I can’t indulge in fun while I have these worries.”

If you have behaviours associated with worrying, would you like to stop or reduce them? You might think the answer is obvious, but it’s not exactly a no-brainer. We choose behaviours because they do something for us, or at least, it’s the best behaviour we can come up with at the time.

We might perceive that our worrying serves a purpose. For example, “If I stop worrying about getting a job, I might stop looking.” Or, “If I don’t worry about my parents’ getting older, they’ll think I don’t care.”

Now, choice theory is rooted in the idea that we choose behaviours. So, choice theory language uses active words to describe what we’re doing. Instead of saying, “I’m anxious,” we might say, “I am anxiety-ing,” or “nervous-ing,” or, of course, “worrying.”

Yet, you know that it can feel like you have no choice in the matter; worry chooses you, not the other way round.

Here’s the benefit of taking the active point of view. If you understand that it is within your power to choose your worrying behaviour, then it is also within your power to  choose a different, non-worrying behaviour!

As you consider whether you really want to make a change from worrying to something different, here’s a question to ask yourself. “Does this worrying behaviour make my life better or worse?”

That is, are you more effective at working on the problem when worrying? Or are you more able to gain perspective and to find helpful solutions when you are doing non-worrying behaviours?

If you see clearly that you are more effective and your life is more satisfying when you are not in the throes of worrying behaviours, then you may be prepared to make a change. Next time, I’ll offer suggestions for changing from worrying to worry-stopping behaviours.

Do you think that worry and anxiety serve a useful purpose in your life? Or do they offer only negative effects?


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