Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Worrying - Part II

Last time, I listed bad advice that us worriers typically get from well meaning friends, family, and even therapists. They all sound good in theory, and even work on short time scales, but in the long run they make us worry even more and - worst of all - make us believe that worrying is bad.

The book (The Worry Cure by Robert L. Leahy) goes on to list the 12 worst ways to deal with worry, known as the dirty dozen. I'm going to split this list into two posts, because otherwise it will be way too long. Here are the first six:

1. Seeking Reassurance
You know - when you ask your husband/boyfriend/best-friend if your butt looks big in those pants for the 16th time? Sure, this makes you feel better RIGHT NOW, but then you start doubting their reassurance: did they just say that because you want them too? It also can become a compulsive behavior, which becomes a worry itself.

2. Trying to Stop Thoughts
Everyone has probably heard of the example where you tell someone that they are absolutely not allowed to think about fluffy white teddy bears for 10 minutes. Just stop thinking about them, right? Well, it turns out all that concentrating on not thinking about it actually brings it to the forefront of your thoughts, causes rebound thinking, and increases the frequency of the thought. It also implies that the thoughts are harmful, and that you are not able to deal with them.

3. Collecting Information
This is where you worry about something and so you try to look up any information you can get in books, on the internet, from other people, etc.. The problem is most people end up trying to find information to confirm negative thoughts (for example, people worried about flying will look up the number of plane crashes in the last month, not the number of flights that landed safely). Worriers also tend to see non-existent trends, over-estimate risk, and consider information that isn't relevant.

4. Checking Things Over & Over
We do this because we think it will reduce our uncertainty, and will prevent bad things from happening (or happening again). We also believe "one can never be too careful", and that we can't trust our memory. So, we do things like check if the door is locked for the 10th time, or triple check that recipe before we put it in the oven (okay, these are minor, but I'm sure you can think of larger issues). This becomes a compulsive behavior, and it makes us feel like we cannot handle uncertainty.

5. Avoiding Discomfort
This also includes procrastination. For example, you are worried about your taxes so you don't file your return on time. Or maybe you don't think you're attractive, so you avoid going to parties. Or you're giving a talk and you tell the audience that you might screw up because you're nervous. All this does is enforces the believe that you cannot handle your worries or problems.

6. Numb Yourself with Alcohol/Drugs/Food
Who hasn't had a bag of chips, a bowl of ice cream, or a glass (bottle?) of wine after a hard day? The wonderful thing about this is it works immediately and is readily available. Plus, the costs (hangover, feeling sick) can be put off for a little while. The problem here is that you won't really figure out what's really bothering you. So, not only do you have the anxiety, but a self-defeating behavior too!

Alright - so far I'm six for six. What about you?

Next time I'll list the rest of the dirty dozen and what using all of these techniques imply.