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Can worrying ever be good for you?

Tags: Self-talk

Whether it's S (stress), A (anxiety) or D (depression), worry thoughts are often the direct cause, as well as a symptom. It's rare to have a worrying thought only once (that's just a thought).

A worry is a repetitive thought – an actual 'loop' of neurons in your brain between the emotional brain and the smart brain that goes round and round (for more on our two brains see my article on What causes stress and anxiety and why we have two brains).

In the mental health profession we call them 'Ruminations'. This is what a cow does with grass – chews it over, swallows it, throws it up and then chews it over and over again.

In the mental health profession, a lot of our time is taken up by helping you NOT to worry.

But sometimes, the thought of NOT worrying (believe it or not), causes people to worry. For example ...

"If I don't worry about things doesn't that mean I don't care?"

"If I don't worry about things maybe I won't do anything about them."

"If I don't worry about things doesn't that make me a shallow person?"

"If I worry about people doesn't that make me a good person?"

You could think of this as secondary worry – that is worrying about worrying, which only equals more stress.

Trust me, worrying that is ruminating (having the same negative, stressful thought over and over again), is never, ever helpful. It rarely results in positive action because you paralyse yourself into in-action by blocking out any useful responses from your smart brain.

But this does not mean you shouldn't think about your problems or care about your loved ones.

It's a matter of how you do it.

I advocate this way of dealing with problems and cares:

Contemplation, not Rumination

What's the difference?

We know what rumination is already, so when we start doing it, mindfully tell it to "Stop! - go away"' and re-focus on contemplation.

Here's Mr Google's definition of contemplation (slightly abridged by me):

The action of looking thoughtfully at something for a long time. Deep reflective thought. The state of being considered or planned.

These things involve the smart or rational brain in a deliberate act of viewing a problem or care, being thoughtful about it and planning what you are going to do about it. I also advocate writing it down (I always say the brain loves a plan – if you don't have a plan it'll panic).

Contemplation (versus rumination) results in a thoughtful look at your worry and making a considered plan about:

  • What you are going to do about it
  • How you are going to think about it, and
  • How you intend to feel about it.

This includes caring about what happens to someone else (a family member or friend), the community or the planet for that matter.

Here are a few simple steps towards more creative worrying:

  1. Stop the worry/rumination in its tracks. Tell it "Stop! – Go away."
  2. Re-focus on contemplating the problem (while grabbing a paper and pencil or sitting at your computer)
  3. Write the problem down, and then follow the steps above (What to do, think and feel about it)
  4. File the worry/rumination/problem away. Put it firmly in a drawer, box, filing cabinet etc. (Or if you've done it mentally do the same thing in your imagination)
  5. If the worry wants to come back – tell it firmly it's in the drawer/box/filing cabinet

So there we have it – contemplate don't ruminate.

Finally, if you are worrying about a loved one, worry (in the true sense of the word) will not help. Instead choose to 'Wish them well' – a lovely old notion that I interpret as imagining them well or happy or out of trouble, and sending positive thoughts.

If your worry is so grave you feel you can't cope on your own – please seek professional help or call one of these services.

Lifeline Australia - 13 11 14
Mensline Australia - 1300 78 99 78
Beyondblue - 1300 224 636
Suicideline Victoria - 1300 651 251
Suicide Call Back Service - 1300 659 467
Kids Helpline - 1800 551 800

US/German studies: Stress causes damage to the heart