How to Change my Worrywort Perspective
January 12, 2008 12:58 PM   Subscribe

How do I Change my Worrywort Perspective?

Hi, everyone, I'm GB and I'm a chronic worrier.

Somehow, someway, along the way (I'm a 43 y.o. male) I've grown into a world class worrier. It's so bad I suspect I don't even realize how much I worry anymore. Sometimes I worry that I'm not worrying enough about something.

Over xmas, while I was under an awful project deadline, I had a short span where I suddenly had this great perspective: "Life is too short. Don't live your life worrying. Ease up. It'll all work out."

Well, that didn't last long. I'm back to my old self.

Remember the main character, Peter, from the movie *Office Space*, after he had that hypnosis session? He was so laid back, so zen, he looked unflappably happy. That's what I want -- or as close as I can get to it without becoming an irresponsible idiot.

Any thoughts?
posted by gb77 to Health & Fitness (34 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Smoke some pot?
posted by BobbyDigital at 1:01 PM on January 12, 2008

Response by poster: >> Smoke some pot?

Thanks, but not really my thing. Don't do drugs or drink either, so I've automatically take some promising options off the table.
posted by gb77 at 1:03 PM on January 12, 2008

I'm extremely anxious by nature, but I've found this technique to work. When I find myself obsessing over a problem, I say to myself: "Will it damage my ability to deal with this problem if I put off worrying about it for 2 hours [or overnight, etc.]?"

And when I ask that, I often honestly find that it won't. This is especially effective when whatever you have to deal with needs to be done during business hours, and you're worrying at home at night or on the weekend. Often, I don't even take up the worrying back again when the two hours are up; I can deal with the problem without that same anxiety.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:11 PM on January 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have decided that the only reason I should become worried is if I decide I am the only person in the world who has ever had the same problems I'm facing.

So, my take is to consider this question: "Are you the only person who has ever faced your problem?"

If not, then other people have worked through it. If so, well then, maybe it's time to start worrying. I have never answered yes to that question.
posted by saeculorum at 1:12 PM on January 12, 2008

Pot wouldn't necessarily help, in any case. It might just make you worry even more. It depends on the personality. Seriously, though, I completely relate to this, and the thing that I've found helps the most is regular exercise. I know it's a generic prescription, but if you're not getting regular exercise, it will help a lot. You don't have to go crazy or anything; a 30 minute walk every day should help, or you can go to the gym; 20 or 30 minutes of cardio and a quick circuit on the more basic weight machines four or five days a week will do wonders. You don't have to become a gym rat, start drinking protein shakes, or subscribe to bodybuilding magazines. Just go in, ride the bike for 15 minutes or so, pick 10 or 12 weight machines you like, and do about a dozen reps on each, then shower. After you've been doing it for a few weeks, you'll really notice the difference if you stop, because your worries will come back.
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:13 PM on January 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I am a regular worrier, but here's a few things I've learnt. People who don't worry so much tend to live longer. Worrying doesn't actually help fix a problem. It has no useful purpose whatsoever, and my opinion was that I was worrying so I'd come up with a solution. Nope.

It takes practice, but a lot of the time now I succeed in applying a couple of different strategies. If there is something I can do about the situation, I put that on my to-do list. It means I won't forget and I can deal with at the appropriate time. Then when the thought comes to mind, I banish it. I tell myself, "I'm dealing with it, I don't need to worry about it" and I make myself think of something else as often as I need to. If I can't do anything about it, then I tell myself this: "every single time in my life that something difficult has cropped up, I've coped with it, and more. I need to trust that I will cope with this if and when it comes to pass, and just forget about it in the meantime."

That's it. Do something, if something can be done. If nothing can be done, trust in your ability to do something, when something can be done. Refuse to think about it elsewise.
posted by b33j at 1:14 PM on January 12, 2008

My mother-in-law is a classic worrywort with a side of downer, and usually two things strike me about her apocalyptic interjections:
  1. The things that she says will go wrong are unlikely to go wrong.
  2. The things that she worries about are, even if they do go wrong, just not going to be that bad.
For example: burning dinner. If I go to sauté some chicken, she'll say something like, "Don't burn the house down!" And she's not really serious, but that's the tone she sets. My calm-down thoughts are "a serious conflagration is just not going to occur" and "even if I do jack this chicken up, meh, we'll just get a pizza."

Would it help you to perform some explicit self-analysis like the above? If you're worrying, think seriously about whether you're (1) worrying about something that's honestly just not likely and (2) how bad, really, are the unlikely outcomes in terms of real-world consequences? Boil it down to a worry-check: (1) likely? (2) how much suck?

I do this all the time at work as a software engineer and it makes me a lot more cheerful about bugs.
posted by mindsound at 1:15 PM on January 12, 2008

I don't believe there's any silver bullet here. I've tried pretty hard to change this in myself but I still worry about things quite a bit. What I've found most helpful is being able to pull myself out of worrying about something before it spirals out of control and stops me from doing anything else. I can do this by just stopping for a second, focusing on my breathing to try to clear my head, and then thinking through how illogical it is to think that I /need/ to worry about something. Worrying isn't going to change anything - so is there anything else I can do to change things? Trying to be as objective as I can: is it worth doing?
posted by muteh at 1:17 PM on January 12, 2008

Have you tried meditation? I sometimes find that is the only thing that can help me to stop my obsessive worrying. A simple breathing meditation can work wonders.
posted by triggerfinger at 1:18 PM on January 12, 2008

Do something that puts you in a situation that is out of your control -- ride a roller coaster, bungee jump, whatever. The point is to make a commitment to ALLOWING yourself to be carried along by circumstances, instead of trying to change them. It's easier to do this in high-adrenaline situations, I've found, but the fragmentary insight (and the memory of the rush) carries over into other areas of one's life.

Intellectually recognizing that worrying is a pointless control mechanism is where you are, and viscerally understanding this is where you need to be. For me, it was purging my senses with big shots of adrenaline that worked.

And, um, I smoked a lot of pot.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:19 PM on January 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Another confidence builder is to do something that you're very good at, just before you have to do something you dread. I do this at work to help myself feel bright and competent before I have to tackle something worrisome. Exercise, cooking, or another hobby can also serve this purpose -- whatever you find rewarding.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:20 PM on January 12, 2008

If you enjoy reading, and don't mind self-help books, check out Dale Carnagie's How to Stop Worrying and Starting Living. He's the same guy who wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People.
posted by nitsuj at 1:24 PM on January 12, 2008

As a recovering worrier, I found that reading David Burns' "Feeling Good" or "The Feeling Good Workbook" showed me how to pick out the fallacies in my thinking and get back on an even keel.

Here's a brief article by Burns on the ten most common cognitive errors:

It will give you a flavor of the book, which has written exercises and forms to fill out to deconstruct your thoughts and get you closer to that zen. Also, taking a printer out into the field and beating it with a bat might help too :)
posted by willmize at 1:26 PM on January 12, 2008

Belly Breathing is easier than actually meditating and is very effective for me.
posted by teleskiving at 1:30 PM on January 12, 2008

Chiming in to recommend exercise and meditation. I've been on meds for my anxiety before and even 10 minutes of meditation seems to help more than pills.
posted by sugarfish at 1:41 PM on January 12, 2008

What are the things you worry about most? Is it a control thing, in the sense that you feel you've done all you can, but you're concerned you haven't set the stage for other people to follow through and make sure a situation comes out okay? Are you worrying that there's something you're missing, that if you don't maintain constant mental vigilance over a problem, something catastrophic will happen, because you weren't thinking about it? Are you worrying that you have something coming up that you need to make a decision on, but it's the wrong one? All of the above, and more scenarios I've likely neglected to mention?

As a fellow catastrophic thinker who is trying to train herself out of it, I've worked hard to try and find the root of my constant worry. Personally, I think it comes down to a few different things.

1.) Don't be a control freak. I have insane illusions about what should be within my power to control. I have a completely skewed perception of what I can actually do in any given situation (particularly at work). I have to constantly work to keep myself in reality on this point. What works best for me is that I remember that being a control freak is wildly egotistical. When I frame it that way, I can take a deep breath and try to be more realistic about what is actually in my control, what could be in my control but is best left to others, and what is completely and totally out of my control and how to let go of it.

2.) Tell your wandering, shouty mind to be quiet. I sometimes think if I really stop worrying about something, I will completely erase it from my brain, not notice when something huge goes awry and the whole thing will fall apart because I was happily thinking about something else. This is also a control thing (if I stop thinking about it, nobody else is thinking about it, therefore, I must think about it ALL THE TIME) -- but it's also an issue of trust in myself. When I find myself in this situation, I just write it all down, all of the things I am worried about, and then I walk away. This soothes the fear I have that I might just fly off in the clouds and never come back to the problem.

3.) Don't obsess over making the "right" decision. I will beat myself up if something goes wrong, convinced I made the wrong decision a while back and oh-god-look-how-bad-I-fucked-it-all-up-again. A good friend of mine told me once that it's the difficult decisions that probably wind up not mattering all that much. You're at a fork in the road, and both paths probably have about the same amount of pros and cons. Instead of fretting over which road to take, just go on ahead and pick one. If you run into trouble or things go to hell, trust that you would have run into problems the other way as well. Try to see the situation for what it is, try to remain positive, and do not call your decision making skills into question. You are not omniscient, you can't see the future, you can only do the best with the hand that you're given. Or, as Yogi Berra says more concisely, "when you come to a fork in the road, take it."

Good luck. I know how hard it is to try and think positively. For worry-worts like us, it feels irresponsible. The inverse is likely more true. Finding the balance is a total bitch. I think recognizing where the tendencies come from is where to start.
posted by pazazygeek at 1:44 PM on January 12, 2008

1. Becoming aware of your breathing.

2. Sit in a room for 15 minutes and do nothing.

3. Do something irresponsible.
posted by wfc123 at 1:51 PM on January 12, 2008

...watching TV, listening to music means you're doing something, by the way.
posted by wfc123 at 1:53 PM on January 12, 2008

Back when I was a recreational drug user, I recall one fo the things I liked about drugs was that I felt Just Like Me only without the chronic owrrying about everything. Many of the people in my family have some degree of anxiety about things. For some of us it's manageable and for some of us it's really a little unmanageable. It's pretty obvious when people in my family who I have known for my whole life are letting their anxieties take over their lives. It appears to them like completely practical sensible worrying, but from the outside it's more and more clear that it's their anxiety talking, not them. Seeing that happen made me not want to be that way personally. So from those two data points, I basically walked away with two things

- there's a big chunk of worrying/anxiety that is a mental construct
- the fact that that may be true doesn't mean there aren't things you can do about it besides "think positively"

For me I try to differentiate what is needless woolgathering and what is something I can go do something constructive about. I try to do the constructive stuff and then find a way to release the rest of it. I do this a few different ways

- meditation - not anything really structured just being someplace quiet and still and doing structured breathing
- aggressive exercise - getting really tired out and doing somethign GOOD for myself was a good way to just not have the mental energy to fret
- sounding board friends - when I am sure that I have a "good reason" to be spazzing out, I bounce it off of a few good friends who can give me more sensible approaches to these things without just telling me to chill out. Sometimes I am right. Often I am not.
- Staying busy. The more you have to do the less you can focus on things that are not what you have to do.
- Ambien - part of my issue was that sometimes I'd get so keyed up I wouldn't be able to sleep. A few days of bad sleep and I could also not do anything else and this was a nightmare for me personally and professionally. So I complained to my doc and got a prescription and for the most part it's like Dumbo's magic feather. I almost never take it (a few times a year?), but it's there and reassuring that I have an out if really things get terrible. I used to drink before bed instead and this, to me, is a better plan B.

At the end of it, both bad things and good things will happen in your life regardless of how much mental energy you put into trying to affect the outcome. Part of it, for me, is realizing that on the paths to those things, I would prefer to be someone who is happy and more or less relaxed, not someone who is overthinking the whole way there. Even something bad that happens -- I have a family member with a bad health situation now and it is terrible -- is still a path not a destination for the most part and you need to think about what sort of traveller you'd like to be which is different about thinking about what sort of person you'll be when you reach your destination.

Best of luck. I've been there and often still come back to visit and I wish you well.
posted by jessamyn at 2:32 PM on January 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

This sounds a lot like me. Sometimes I worry, and I don't even know what I'm worrying about. I'm also diagnosed with "pure o" OCD and generalized anxiety disorder. I'm not saying you have either of these things, but my advice may or may not be helpful because of this. What I've found that helps the most with both is simple and difficult all at once.

I realize I'm doing it, and then I say to myself: you're doing it again. That is your OCD/anxiety disorder/whatever, rearing its ugly head. I'm not going to do this. I'm not going to worry about this right now.

The hardest part for me is realizing when I'm doing it. And sometimes, telling myself I'm doing it isn't enough, but it is amazing how many times I'm able to stop myself from worrying just by noticing it's happening.
posted by rosethorn at 2:48 PM on January 12, 2008

Nobodys brought up mindfulness yet but I will since it has been helpful for me. From

"You are not your thoughts. Thoughts take us away from being here now. If I am thinking about the past, or worried about the future, I am a prisoner of my thoughts. When I take a moment to observe myself having thoughts, I am no longer the thoughts. I get to be and observe at the same time."

That gives you an idea about mindfulness. Be more objective when it comes to your thoughts, just because you have a thought doesn't mean it is true or something that you have to believe. Kind of back away from them and really put alot of effort into which thoughts your going to give credence to and which you know should just be dismissed. You won't be able to change the amount of thinking, just your reaction to the thinking.
posted by pwally at 3:14 PM on January 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

So I complained to my doc and got a prescription and for the most part it's like Dumbo's magic feather. I almost never take it (a few times a year?), but it's there and reassuring that I have an out if really things get terrible.

I had a similar experience. I'm a first-class worrier, and I also got into worry feed-back loops. That is, I would worry about the fact that I was worrying so much and that I couldn't stop worrying. I felt I was getting close to non-functional. So I went to the doctor, and he gave me a prescription of Xanax.

That was maybe a month ago, and I've taken the Xanax once. KNOWING that I can control the worry if I need to makes me feel in control. It makes me feel so in-control that I don't need the meds.

Everyone reacts to drugs differently (and I am not a doctor), but during my one night on Xanax, I had no side effects. In fact, at first I thought it couldn't be working, because I literally didn't feel anything. I felt no different an hour after taking it than I felt before I took it. But after a while, I realized that I wasn't worrying. I didn't feel blissful or anything. I just didn't feel worried.

Xanax can cause some problems if you use it constantly, but I don't have an addictive personality. Like you, I don't like drugs. So I now I'll always be conservative about taking it. I want to find other was to deal with worry: meditation, etc. But since I knew such techniques would take time to master, they never seemed doable. I needed a way to stop the worry NOW. Now that I have that, I feel ready to tackle non-drug solutions. It's okay if they're not immediately effective.
posted by grumblebee at 3:21 PM on January 12, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your answers so far. I appreciate your input. And it's nice to see I'm not alone in my worrying.

posted by gb77 at 4:09 PM on January 12, 2008

A few idea that worked for me:
- I found the book Learned Optimism was the first step to trying to change my thinking.
- Once you start to get your worry under control, using a GTD (GEtting things Done) system that gives you confidence that you will reminded of things you need to worry about at the time it is effective to be thinking about it. This is the book that started it: Getting Things Done - Stressfree Productivity. I've been implementing it using the Omnifocus software but there are other options.
posted by metahawk at 4:57 PM on January 12, 2008

Here is a simple sentence that I like:

Worry is the misuse of imagination.

Think about that for a minute. I'll also second any suggestion of a meditation practice. It will help you get control of your thoughts generally, including worry.
posted by thedanimal at 6:35 PM on January 12, 2008

Meditation, big time.

You don't need to do marathon bouts sitting in the lotus position. Twenty minutes breathing or walking meditation, once a day every day will change your life.

Of all the links so far, I would second triggerfinger's.
posted by tkolar at 7:13 PM on January 12, 2008

I really liked this answer from Your Time Machine Sucks to a related question.
posted by Quietgal at 7:13 PM on January 12, 2008

I'm in a bit of a rush, so I didn't read the earlier posts. Forgive me if this is a repeat.

I found what can help me is to think of the negative outcome you're worrying about and ask yourself if this is really all that bad. If you do come to a really bad conclusion, ask yourself if that's really what is likely to happen.

Often I would find myself worrying about something only to realize that, even if the situation played out as badly as possible, it wouldn't really be bad at all. I found I was worrying about the very idea of something not going "well", even if the actual outcome was totally trivial. People in my family tend to sweat something when the negative outcome essentially doesn't exist. I guess it's a way of "facing one's fears" and looking at them clearly instead of turning them into boogiemen by letting your imagination run wild.
posted by Doctor Suarez at 7:22 PM on January 12, 2008

I don't know how much of a solution this is, but the one thing I once heard about worrying that changed my perspective of it forever was this. Think of something you might worry about. Let's say you're worried about not getting accepted to grad school. Or it could be a job. Or whatever. Fast forward to the day you get the bad news. That day sucks. It feels bad. You feel defeated and inadequate and now WTF are you going to do? That's a bad day.

But now rewind back to the present - let's say it's three months prior to D-day. You are worrying about that negative outcome like 10 times a day. You play out the negative outcome each time and you feel the pain of it each time. You are actually having the experience of the negative outcome. 10 times a day for 90 days. So by the time the day arrives, and let's say the bad outcome does in fact happen, you have gone through the experience 901 times. If you hadn't worried, you'd just feel it the once, on the day it happens. Do you really want/need to feel it more than once? When you've already done all you can, and there's nothing left to do to influence the situation, is it doing you any good to go through that anguish, making yourself live through the bad experience in your head? No, it's just unnecessary pain.

And that's not even factoring in the possibility that things could go well instead. Let's say they do go well. You've gone through the pain of failure/rejection 900 times when you didn't have to do it even once.

For me that just made so much sense. Worrying's only function is to make you live through a bad thing over and over, that's not even happening. It has no useful value. If I have to go through a bad experience and feel bad about a bad outcome, I only want to do it once, because it hurts.

So that's more of a fact and perspective than it is a solution. But remembering this fact and reminding myself of it each time I worry has really helped me to lay down my worrying. I am presented with a choice of whether to feel bad over and over and I am choosing not to. Because it really is my decision.

As others have said, it is a control issue. You do have to let go and say that whatever will happen will happen and you will deal with it either way. You have to release the control you wish you had. You have to recognize that you don't have it. There is a tranquility in that release.

And finally you have to reassure yourself that you can handle bad things. You have done so in the past and can and will do so any time it's needed. It doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't want good things to happen, just that once you've done all you can, it's time to be content with that and just wait. I hope that's something that can help you.
posted by kookoobirdz at 11:33 PM on January 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Someone once defined worry and anxiety for me as the massive, catastrophic overestimation of a negative outcome and the underestimation of your ability to deal with it.

Uncertainty and lack of control over a particular issue can also a big part of worrying I think. You have all these possible, awful outcomes swirling around in your head and you just don't really know what's going to happen and that is mighty, mighty stressful.

I think I've posted this in response to another question somewhere, but seriously, asking myself what is the worst that could happen in any given situation, then asking if it's something I can control, and then deciding how I'll deal with it, in practical baby steps has been enormously helpful to me. I write the steps down, too.

I used to get terribly, awfully worried about everything but there's something about seeing it all down on paper that just takes the edge off.
posted by t0astie at 4:55 AM on January 13, 2008

similar to t0astie's answer, when i find that worrying excessively stops me from doing the things i should be doing, i write it all down, every little bit of silly reasoning as to why i can't do x, or what bothers me about y.

then i leave it overnight and read it again, and realise how stupid it sounds, and do x anyway.

i actually keep a diary, and despite what people say, it's bad to keep a diary because it exacerbates your habits etc etc. i think it actually exposes your daily thought patterns when reading back over a long period, and helps to identify what to change.
posted by sardonicsmile at 11:44 PM on January 13, 2008

Anytime I get stressed out to the point of panic attacks, I try to think, "Hey, guess what, this won't kill you. In a week, this will be over." Seems to help quite a bit with relaxing.
posted by herbaliser at 1:16 PM on January 14, 2008

Cognitive behavior therapy did wonders for me in this regard.

You learn to ask yourself, "What's the worst that could happen if I did/didn't do X?" "What's the best that could happen if I didn't/did do X?" in these situations, and convince yourself of the right way to go.

The trick, I've found, is not to eradicate the decision process to ease anxiety, but to actually engage the decision process and your inner voice to make the right choices.
posted by wackybrit at 10:29 AM on November 20, 2008

Focus on the fear. It is an alarm system. Just let your self hear the alarm completely. Focus on it. Make sure it fills your whole body up. Then shut it off by imagining yourself shutting it off.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:05 AM on November 20, 2008

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