Worry – Why does it happen?

Learn how to stop worrying.

Why does it have to be about the bad stuff if you have to worry? Why not dedicate some of that worry time to thinking about the good stuff?

There is a reason why the content of your worries is related to bad things. It has to do with your brain.  It also has to do with habit.

I will explain the benefits of learning to stop ruminating about the bad stuff and cultivating time for the good stuff. First, we shall start with how it happens in the first place.

Why do you worry?

A primitive part of your brain is to do with survival. It is there to protect you from danger. Your brain is constantly scanning, looking for anything that may harm you.  If your brain thinks there may be a threat coming your way, it will grab onto it to see if further action is needed.

If necessary, your sympathetic nervous system will be activated to protect you.  You can read more about this here.

Your brain does not need to protect you from pleasure, so it will not tend to latch onto good positive thoughts and feelings as much as bad ones.

This means that your brain will pay more attention to the “bad thoughts” than the “good thoughts.”  Making you more likely to worry about what you perceive to be negative.

Depending on what type of thoughts you have, your brain may react to your thoughts as if they represent a danger to you.  If meeting an important deadline at work or paying the next bill is a source of stress, you will probably have these thoughts and a feeling of stress in your body.

Your brain may decide that the thoughts, matched with the feeling of stress, are a potential threat to you.

The more you think about your worries, the more attention your brain pays to them. Practice makes perfect. Whatever you pay attention to over and over again, your brain learns.  Eventually, it becomes automatic, a habit. What your brain pays attention to; becomes real.

Once this has become habitual, your brain can automatically give you these thoughts and other related thoughts; hence, you worry.

Do you want to stop worrying?

Before discussing what you can do to stop worrying, you must decide if you want to give it up.

Most people think this is a no brainier. Of course, you want to stop worrying.

However, I have spoken with countless people who save up their worries. Maybe you are busy at work and don’t have time to worry and decide to save your worrying until later when you are home.

If this is you, you are delaying worrying until later and choosing to worry about all the things that make you feel bad when you are in the comfort and privacy of your own home.

You are now feeling bad at home when the event that is the source of your worries is over.

Some people look forward to getting home and getting stuck right into their worries. Going over and over it in their head, from all possible angles, running different scenarios and outcomes.

Is this necessary, and what does it do to you?

What does worrying do to you?

If you recognize yourself above, what this is doing to you, is twofold

  1. As far as your brain is concerned. You are practising a skill. The more you worry, the more your brain pays attention until it can do it automatically for you.
  2. When you are comfortable at home, whatever you worry about is like having your worst enemy with you in your home. Maybe your worries are about going over the same old problem you have with a friend, spouse or boss.  If you are thinking about these people in your home, you might also have them over for dinner!

The worries make your headrace and produce untold uncomfortable anxiety in your body and may even affect your sleep.

Worrying may make you anxious or have a low mood.

If you habitually worry, not only does it take up your headspace, it also may lead to stress in your body.  Your thoughts and feelings are connected.  Take a moment and think about the things you typically worry about.  I bet that when you think of them, you do not feel light and happy in your body.

You are more likely to feel the symptoms of stress or find it difficult to control and switch off your mind.

Every thought that you have resulted in changes in your brain.  Your brain communicates messages by what are called “neurotransmitters.”  One neurotransmitter that is of interest here is; serotonin.

Serotonin can affect, amongst other things, your mood and sleep. It helps regulate your mood, keep anxiety at bay, and helps you to feel motivated and pleasure when you do things right.

It follows then that low serotonin levels may result in you losing your sense of pleasure and reward; your mood may become low, even depressed.

When depressed, your thought processes change; they become much more negative.  Remember what I was talking about earlier – what you pay attention to repeatedly, your brain learns?

If your thought processes have become more negative due to low mood, the content of your thoughts will be more negative, and you may get “stuck” in a worrying habit and find it challenging to look on the positive side.

Getting stuck in this “worry habit” means that you are continually exposed to the stress that accompanies negative thoughts.

Low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression, anxiety and insomnia.

How to stop worrying and deal with anxiety.

If you are ready to give up worrying, here is what to do.

You will unlearn worry and practice a new skill, so be patient with yourself; it takes a little time.

Start by finding out when you worry most. Please pay attention to the content of your worries, i.e. what they are about.  Just note when are where you worry.   For example, maybe worry in bed at night or when you come home from work. You might find yourself worrying in the shower; lots of people do.

It’s important to know when and where you worry, as this is when you identify when you will be vulnerable to the worry habit.

See your worries as thoughts. That’s all they are. You may think you are solving a problem by worrying about it, but there would be no need to continue to worry if you did solve the problem. They are only thoughts—mental activity in your brain.

Plan to do something else instead.  For example, if you worry at home after dinner, go for a walk instead.  Be careful not to switch your worries from home to walking!

To avoid this happening, practice walking mindfully.  This means paying attention to walking.  Please pay attention to what is around you, what it feels like walking and the impact of your feet on the ground.  If your head wanders onto worrying (which it probably will do at the start), remind yourself these are only thoughts and bring your attention back to walking.

Cultivating pleasant thoughts.

If you have been an expert at worrying, you will now practice replacing those destructive thoughts with ones that will help you.

Paying attention to the things in your life that are okay will start to shift your attitude from negative to positive.

Start cultivating pleasant thoughts by noting things in your day that were okay or that you were grateful for.  Simple things, like having a cup of coffee, seeing a flower, it not raining, or being on time for work.

This may sound simple, but I shall repeatedly remind you what you pay attention to; your brain learns.  Start to pay attention to, over and over again, more positive experiences.  Teach your brain a more helpful skill.

Exercise may enhance your serotonin levels. Start small, a ten-minute walk every day.  Take the stairs when you can.

Remember when I said that your brain pays more attention to bad events than good events?  By practising these simple suggestions, you are actively “letting go” of worry and unlearning the worry habit.

Not only that, you are teaching yourself and your brain to focus on the aspects of your day that are okay by paying more attention to the more positive aspects, the ones that your brain pays less attention to.  Remember, your brain does not pay much heed to these, as it does not protect you from happiness.

It would help if you cultivate positive emotions, and the simple suggestions above will get you started.

To find the solution to worry, you must look at your brain.

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