Worrying – Part III

The third post in my worrying series continues the list of the dirty dozen from last time (part I here, part II here). So far, we have:

1. Seeking Reassurance
2. Trying to Stop Thoughts
3. Collecting Information
4. Checking Things Over & Over
5. Avoiding Discomfort
6. Numb Yourself with Alcohol/Drugs/Food

Here are the rest:

7. Over-Prepare
Alright, hands up if you have defended a thesis or given a talk? I can guarantee you that every single one of us over-prepared for those bad boys! Doing this infers that you have to be totally in control of your worries, and that not being perfect = looking like an idiot. Another problem, and I’ve found this in my impostor syndrome research as well, is that if we over-prepare and succeed, we believe the only reason is because of how much we prepared. So, next time we over-prepare again. Ah, vicious cycles.

8. Using Safety Behaviors
This is anything that makes us feel safe. For example, not making eye contact at a party or in the hall (that way people can’t reject us!). Yes, we feel safe, but it also reinforces we have no control and it maintains our fears and worries.

9. Always Try to Make a Great Impression
This behavior is common of people who were brought up with an insecure attachment to their parents, or grew up in an atmosphere with an emphasis on what others think or feel, or feel that they have a responsibility for others. Always wanting to appear perfect, or fun, or lovable all the time makes you anticipate being judged by others.

10. Thinking it Over & Over
This is all about thinking about what has happened, or what is happening (instead of worrying about the future). People who do this are more likely to be anxious and depressed. And, perhaps not surprising to many of us, women are more likely to over think/analyze past events. We do this because we think (hope?) we’ll eventually come to a solution and stop feeling bad. However, the problem is the solution must be perfect (so we never find one), and it increases our awareness of how bad we feel. This, in turn, reduces our ability to see the positive side and to come up with alternative, non-perfect, solutions.

11. Demand Certainty
“Oh, if only I knew when X was going to happen, I would be fine!” We all know there is no certainty in this world, so wanting to know what’s going to happen and when just makes us more worried (because we know that’s never going to happen). Plus, if we knew that one thing, then we’d just find something else to worry about.

12. Refuse to Accept Your Thoughts
“Nope – I’m not allowed to be worried about this. NAH NAH NAH NAH!!!!”. That ain’t going to work! This makes you feel that your thoughts are bad or wrong, and that you should be ashamed or feel guilty. So, you must get rid of them immediately, or else you might just lose control completely!! Another big problem with this one? We start to believe our thoughts are predictive (if I think about the plane crashing, it will! If I think I’ll get pregnant, I’ll jinx it!).

Alright – I’m 12 for 12. Wow. What’s interesting is that I’ve been told to try these techniques – no wonder I never felt better!

In summary, each of these techniques imply you:
– cannot face your fears
– should not think of the worst outcome
– should avoid upsetting feelings
– need reassurance from others
– cannot face uncertainty
– need to get rid of negative emotions.

So, how freeing does is feel that you’re ALLOWED to feel upset and negative, to think about the worst possible situation, and you don’t need someone else to tell you what to do? Scary, but freeing at the same time, no? It’s just all about how you handle that worry.

The next part of the book discusses the seven steps to taking control of your worry. I haven’t decided if I’m going to dedicate a post to each one (each is a chapter in the book, The Worry Cure by Robert L. Leahy), or put them together. In any case, stay tuned!


Comments on: "Worrying – Part III" (7)

  1. Yeah I'm definitely 12 for 12. I'm really curious about these seven steps you speak of. Thanks for posting about this. I might even have to by this book.

    I think that science might attract us worriers. Since being collecting information, checking things over and over again, over preparing, and demanding certainty are virtues in this career path…


  2. PhD – Thanks for your comment! I think you're right in that science attracts worriers. Or maybe we become worriers as we become scientists. Either way, there is definitely a connection.


  3. Wow, I'm 5 for 6 on this list. The only one I don't do (anymore) is #12. So, that gives me a total of 9/12. Not so good :S I'm also curious about the next part of your series, thanks for posting this!

    Re: thinking about the worst case scenario, I read a book many years ago called “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living”, by Dale Carnegie and one of the strategies in it was exactly this. If you are anxious about something, force yourself to think about the worst case scenario. Then, think about what you would do/what would happen if that scenario came to pass. The idea is that once you've allowed yourself to think about it and plan for it, you can make peace with it. Then, the anxiety is removed because you no longer feel like you can't handle a bad outcome, you've already prepared for it. I guess it addresses the uncertainty and lack of control factors of anxiety. It has actually worked for me.


  4. Andrea – yes, I've heard of that (and have done that too). There is also something called “flooding”, which I'll talk about in an upcoming post.


  5. WOW, 12 for 12 here, too. I've been especially guilty of #'s 2 and 12 – I really did think focusing on not focusing on what I'm worried about (finding a faculty position, getting/staying pregnant, finding a job while getting/staying pregnant) would help. Also “guilty” of collecting information to find out what went wrong and how to make it right…I am a scientist after all! Funny, but these mechanisms haven't been working so well. Can't wait to read the next post! (I might have to go find this book myself.) Thanks for the information!!


  6. hm, guess that book should be on my list…. I'm not 12 for 12, but that's not saying much. I'm close…

    I think most of my things could be owrked out if I don't think so darned much all the time. To allow myself to be able to say “huh, haven't thought about that” since most times it's never _that bad not to know the exact course of action in 5 sec_. Although,of course, I aim for that all the time.

    Not so darn perfect would be the goal. I mean, I clearly live with not being perfect in my physique… so maybe if I turn more perfect bodywise, I'd be more ok with being less perfect* mind wise?? 🙂

    *not saying I m, but clearly stressing over it all the time… duh.


  7. Six for six this time! Although I'm gradually doing better at the over-preparing thing.


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