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Andrea’s Book Nook: Let’s talk about worry — and what you can do about it

By Andrea Silva Santisteban Fort, June 4 2021—

I have had many things on my mind lately. The travel situation for international students, what the COVID-19 pandemic is going to be like in a few months and the election results of my home country are thoughts that sometimes I feel like I can not turn off. I am sure that I am not the only one with this problem, so I wanted to briefly discuss the subject of worry and share a few tips on how to deal with it. Some of these are my personal tips and others are taken from the book The Worry Trick: How Your Brain Tricks You into Expecting the Worst and What You Can Do About It, written by David A. Carbonell. I hope this helps you in some way.

What is Worry? 

I think a good starting point is explaining how your brain tricks you into worrying. According to Carbonell, “You experience doubt and [your mind] treats it like danger.” We are surrounded by uncertainty. If last year taught us anything, it is that we can have an idea of what the future holds, but this does not mean that our expectations are going to be met. As Carbonell reflects, “Worry predictions aren’t based on what’s likely to happen. They are based on what would be terrible if it did happen. They’re not based on probability — they’re based on fear.” You can consider yourself a fairly positive person. Nonetheless, everybody has moments where our mind just pictures the worst scenarios possible. 

So, what can you do about it? 

Recognize your own patterns:

I think one of the first things that we need to do in order to deal with the problem of facing your worries is to recognize how our own behaviours can make things seem worse than they actually are. According to Carbonell, it is very common for us to: 

1. Overgeneralize — think that one bad moment will determine the course of our day. 

2. Mind read — to assume we know what other people are thinking. 

3. Maximize — the probability of something detrimental happening to us and minimize the possibility of using our abilities to adapt to difficulties. 

4. Tell our fortunes  — to think that we know what the future holds.

5. Think in black and white — when we focus on extremes without recognizing a middle ground.

I think it is important to point out that our worries are only thoughts and ideas. These can be based on feelings, but feelings can change or can be based on a wrong perspective. For instance, you might hear someone say, “I feel like I’ll never get a good job.” Carbonell argues that the thought of never getting a good job may be true or false. The emotions are reactions to the contents of thoughts regardless of how true or false that content is. We can experience an emotional response to a false thought just as powerfully as to a correct one.

Ask yourself these questions: 

The book also provides a good “question and answer” technique the reader can practice when feeling worried. This consists of doing the following every time you feel overwhelmed — write down your worries, take a look at them and apply this two-part test: Is there a problem that exists now in the external world around you? If there is, can you do something to change it now? 

If you answered yes to both of these questions, then perhaps you should go do something to change the problem now. But, if the answer is no to the second query, then try to let it go as there is nothing you can do about it now. I think this is a good tip under some circumstances. When I applied for a student visa, for example, the process took more than six months. This is because all offices were completely closed and the processes were slowed down due to the pandemic. I remember a lot of students were in the same position as me and were really stressed about the whole situation. Nevertheless, the reality was that nobody could do anything about it other than provide the documents they needed in an organized way and hope for the best. What I mean by this is that realizing that some things are just beyond our own control can be a step taken to release some worry. 

Seek an opportunity in your worry: 

The Worry Trick advises the reader to “humour our worry.” By this, the author means to take the thought, accept it and exaggerate it. Think of the potential horrible outcome you worry about and find solutions to solve it. Worry is counterintuitive — when you try to remove it by whatever means, it becomes more persistent. The point of humouring a response is to become more accepting of the worry so that it matters less to you. This helps in getting better at hearing and accepting the thought for what it is — simply a thought inside your internal world. I think this can also be a good technique in some circumstances as it can provide new solutions to problems that are stressing us out. On the other hand, I think sometimes it is necessary for things to go wrong and it can be a learning opportunity. Maybe not getting the internship you wanted was the necessary step for you to finally create the small business you always dreamed of. Sometimes discomfort is necessary to grow and develop resilience as a person.

Be careful with what you consume:

With this idea, I mean that you have to be considerate about what you let into your life. Try to get away from toxic patterns and relationships. It might also be a good idea to get away from social media. An overload of information can have a negative impact on your mental health. At the end of the day, whether you like it or not, what you consume influences you. Worrying can be like sitting in a rocking chair — it is a way to pass time but does not really get you anywhere. I think mindfulness can be really helpful with this. I have discussed this in past articles, but I want to reiterate how important it is to live in the moment. Meditate, try to be mindful about and focus on everything you do. Gratitude is also a great practice. We tend to focus on our problems but forget all the blessings in our lives. 

Let it out and let it go:

Carbonell advises to over-exaggerate what you are worrying about. Try singing a “worry song” by repeating your worry 40 times to yourself in the mirror — face your fear. According to Carbonell, you will eventually get used to it. Telling yourself to stop worrying about something counterintuitively makes you worry about it more. I did not relate to this suggestion, but it might work for you. Nonetheless, I do think it is important to ask for help when you need it. Sometimes we all need reassurance. Telling someone how you feel and opening up about your struggles can aid the situation. It can give you the sensation that you are letting go. I like to write in my journal what I am worried about as it feels like I am putting my problems down on paper and releasing them. 

I hope you can find these tips useful. My aim with this article is not to minimize anyone’s problems but to help you put things into perspective. Life is too short to spend it worrying.

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