Blog for Counselor Laura Michael
"As If" © Abbie Kozik

How Worrying Seduces Us

So often in life, we find ourselves ruminating over past events that we cannot change, or project into a future that we irrationally believe we can control with our thoughts.  Anxiety often manifests itself in spending an excessive amount of time and energy worrying about things that might happen or might not happen.  I once heard that 47% of of waking hours are spent on thinking about what isn’t going on.  

Well, we must be getting something out of worrying or else we wouldn’t do it so much.  What is the benefit we get?  As irrational as it might sound, I suggest that deep down, we believe that worrying does one of two things:  1) prevents bad things from happening, or 2) prepares us for the bad thing happening, thus making it easier if it does. Our logical selves know that neither of these outcomes can be the result of perseverating, but our unconscious selves persist in this behavior nonetheless.  

When we allow our minds to become mired in anticipating future misery, we are, in effect choosing current misery with the misconception that we might spare ourselves later. It is rather ironic that we create so much suffering in the present on the pretense that we are preventing it at a future date. If I spend all week worrying that the predicted snowstorm on Friday will thwart people from coming to the big party I am planning, I am projecting that I will be unhappy if my party fails to meet my expectations. However, if I start on Monday anticipating that unhappiness, I have now added a week of misery to the presumed misery that may or may not occur on Friday. Perhaps the weather won’t be so bad or perhaps people will venture out despite the cold. And, if my fears are valid and I have a poor showing at my event, what is the worst thing that will happen?

Even with no evidence to back it up, we believe that our thoughts are very powerful. We are tricked into imagining that we may be able to control outcomes in the world merely by thinking in a certain way.  The dilemma posed by worrying is that it presents us with both the desire for control as well as the discomfort of uncertainty. We are drawn toward control, even when we know it to be unattainable. We understand the reality of uncertainty, even when we resist surrendering to it. The reality is that no amount of angsting is going to serve as a preventive or immunizing tool.  When we are able to quiet our minds, we can see one of the greatest risks of worrying: it may preemptively snatch away that which we value most.