Why Your Efforts to Manage Worry Fail

The two reasons that people are unsuccessful at managing worry are: 1) They wait until the worry has spiraled out of control such that most strategies are ineffective and 2) They try fighting their worry and anxiety.

One of the most important things to understand about the nature of worry is that it occurs in a spiral of interactions between thoughts, images, physical sensations, behaviors, and emotions that interact to a progressively higher level anxiety. By the time most people try a coping strategy, the worry is too powerful for the strategy to be effective and may even make matters worse due to frustration and hopelessness.

The other very important thing to understand about worry is that fighting it fuels it. Daniel Wegener showed two groups of people a photo of a white bear. One group was told to NOT think about the white bear while the other group was told it was okay to think about it. The group that was told not to think about it was more likely to be thinking about it 10 minutes later. When he ran a similar study asking people what they worry about and only telling one group to avoid thinking about their worry. Not only did the group who was told not to think about their worry, worry more than the group who was only asked what they worried about, the difference was even greater than it was with the white bear experiment. So the most common advice we get to manage worry, “Don’t think about it” or “Put it out of your mind” actually makes it worse!

So what can you do to overcome these problems. In short, catch anxiety early/prevent the spiral from getting out of control and avoid fighting anxiety. Over the next several weeks I will go into greater detail about these. But if you don’t want to wait - click here to check out my Worry, Anxiety, and Depression Workbook.