How to Stop Yourself Falling Into a Worry Spiral

by

Short of beating it down with a stick.

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Your trips abroad that have been plagued by fretting about something you’ve forgotten to lock, that evening you convinced yourself there was definitely a hooded stranger poking around in your bathroom about to swipe your SKII, or that morning you knew, deep down, that the reason your friend was late to meet you was because they’d met their bitter end en route. Yes, my friend, that’s called pathological worrying. (Mums are big fans.)

As absurd as some of your worries may be, there is a purpose. But why, once you’ve started, is almost it impossible to stop? A new review detailed in the journal Biological Psychology sheds some light.

“For most people, worrying has a purpose,” the study explains. “Whether it be to solve perceived problems of daily living, as an attempt to repair negative mood, or as a means to try and ensure that ‘bad’ things do not happen or to avoid future catastrophes.”

This is spot on for the nonsensical worrier: we (I too suffer from this affliction) are firm believers in the doctrine that those who utter the words, ‘See John, there’s nothing to worry about!’ are the first to be swiftly taken out by a maniacal serial killer in films. We consider worrying as the antidote to the actual occurrence of what we’re worrying about. Another factor is low mood (which makes anyone worry that little bit more).

Once you’ve started worrying, however, it can be extremely hard to stop. Christian Jarrett at BPS Research Digest furthers the argument by explaining that full-time worriers, “tend to have a kind of perfectionist approach.” That is, once they begin their trip to Worry City, they feel psychologically obligated to start “working through every eventuality and solving every problem.”

So, how can we pull ourselves out of the anxiety vortex?

The review authors, Graham Davey and Frances Meeten at the University of Sussex and the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, suggest that combatting your low mood quicksmart is helpful – hit a park, do a spot of yoga, indulge in some tear-jerking dog videos, perhaps. Taking your mind off your worries is the best place to start. Another helpful strategy is to ‘conclude’ your worrying when you’re tired of it, as opposed to when you’ve found your solution. Graham and Frances also suggest that even recognising the effects of worry contribute to you being better able to combat the spiral in future. You could even try journalling your concerns because you might find a slightly ridiculous (and not very probable) example of your worry in full swing right there on your paper.

Because let’s face it: how likely is it that in the dark corner of your garage lurks a very stealth (and very patient) robber? We’d say not that likely – and no amount of worrying will change that fact.

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