#302 from Innovative
Leader Volume 6, Number 10
Potter provides management and self-development training for
corporations, government agencies and colleges.
Among several books she has authored are The
Worrywart’s Companion (Wildcat Canyon Press, Berkeley, CA,
1997) and Finding A Path With A Heart: How
To Go From Burnout to Bliss (Ronin Publishing, Berkeley, CA,
1995). She is located
in Berkeley, California and can be reached by phone at
510-540-6278, or by email
at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.docpotter.com/.
Worrying is good
because it anticipates danger before it arises, identifies
possible perils, comes up with ways to lessen the risks, and
rehearses what you plan to do.
But there are some people, worrywarts, who seem to become
stuck in identifying danger.
Perhaps you manage such an individual.
They immerse themselves in the dread associated with the
threat, which may be real or, more likely, imagined.
They spin out an endless loop of melodrama, blowing
everything out of proportion.
“What if I can’t handle this new responsibility?”
“What if I don’t sleep well the night before my
if I don’t reach that sales quota?”
“What if my new staff member can’t fit in?”
insist worrying is helpful, little is solved.
They are tormented by their thinking ruts, and stop living
in the present moment. Worrywarts
waste important time and energy. Worse yet, worry begets more worry, setting into motion a
vicious cycle of anxiety. Many
of these people want to analyze everything; they become
their analysis gets in the way of getting things done, moving
worrying tends to crowd out everything else, spoiling the day and
sometimes disrupting sleep. You
get nowhere by merely telling them, “Don’t worry.”
However, if you understand the worrywart, it will be easier
to help him or her.
some bad thinking habits. They
are not born with a predisposition to anxious self-talk. They learned it! They
also can change bad thinking habits in the same way they would
change any other habit.
on the other hand, avoid becoming consumed by anxiety by studying
the perils associated with a worrisome situation, by recognizing
their distress as anxiety, and by bringing themselves back to the
do the opposite. They
keep themselves in a state of agitation.
Smart worriers soothe themselves, while worrywarts rile
Worry is an inner
dialog called “self-talk,” a talking it over with oneself as a
way to cope with bothersome situations.
The nature of that dialog is tremendously powerful in
shaping how you feel and what you do.
Worrywart’s self-talk is judgmental, critical and scary,
keeping them off-balance and unnerved as it triggers more worry.
talk to themselves the way a friend would. Friends encourage, give permission and challenge extremes.
Thus, smart worriers become hopeful, think flexibly and
look for solutions, even if they are only partial solutions.
And smart worriers accept what can’t be changed.
for the Worrywart
If you recognize
the worrywart type in your group, show him or her (or them) this
article. Or, perhaps,
you will want to provide your own recommendations in getting out
of this mental habit. Here
are some hints that have actually helped worrywarts.
How You Worry. Don’t
make the mistake of trying to change your worrying before you
understand it. Keep a
record of the themes of your worries, your worrying times and the
triggers that initiated the worries.
Rate the degree of each worry and the sensations you feel.
List the fears hiding in that worry.
As you write about the worry, you are taking action and
gaining control. You
are doing something other than worrying.
You’ll begin to understand your habit.
ever-present companion—you—causes the worrywart habit.
Get that companion to help you, and talk to you as a friend
would. This is a
technique that psychologists find to be quite effective.
Have an internal dialog to help you stop criticizing
yourself. Use the
internal dialog to support yourself and make decisions or set
goals. The best way
to do this is to imagine what a friend would say.
What would he or she say to soothe you and bring you back
to balance? You may want to write your “companion’s” suggestions in
habit took years to develop; therefore, it’s not surprising that
the self-talk method will take time and effort. Talk to yourself in an undemanding and pleasant way, just the
way a good friend would talk to you.
Your Worry. An
unchallenged worrisome thought, repeated over and over, gains
persuasive power through a kind of brainwashing. It becomes so compelling you forget it is only one
way of looking at the situation.
Soon you believe the worry is an established fact.
Then, you are convinced of the truth of your worry.
And that’s where you’re stuck.
However, there is
always more than one way to view things. Challenging a worrisome thought by contemplating a range of
equally plausible points of view keeps the worry from being taken
as true. If you see
yourself trapped and helpless, you’ll feel depressed; whereas if
you look at the situation as a difficult, but surmountable,
challenge, you’re likely to feel hopeful determination.
doesn’t seem so, it is actually a matter of choice. You can choose among ways of viewing a worrisome situation by
the way you think about it. You
may not be able to control a disturbing event, but you can control
what you say to yourself about it.
That’s what smart worriers do, they change their view and
how they feel. They
actively challenge worrisome thoughts.
From the notes on
your worrying habits, you’ll become more aware of
anxiety-provoking automatic thoughts as they occur.
Review the “data” and ask yourself what went through
your mind at the time. Then
under the worrisome thought, write the word “Challenges.”
Do some brainstorming for alternative views of the
situation. You don’t even have to be logical. The main thing is to catch worries and get in the habit
of challenging them.
for Solutions. Worry
is beneficial provided you worry smart. Smart worry leads to action, to doing something to improve
your situation. Worry
that doesn’t lead to action is useless, even destructive.
You can be worrying and not really be aware of it.
It just seems to go on automatically while you’re doing
something else. You
must bring that worry to your conscious attention before you can
find a solution. Then
ask yourself, “What am I really worrying about?”
Then ask, “Is
there anything I can do about this?”
If the answer to this question is “No,” then there is
no gain, no benefit in continuing to worry about it.
To continue worrying is worrywarting.
But worry can
lead to something productive, so don’t be too quick to answer
“No,” for this can lead to the feeling of powerlessness and
damage motivation. The
fact is, there is almost always something
you can do.
If the answer to
the question is “Yes,” then begin to look for solutions.
Once again, there is no reason to continue worrying about
it. So let go of the
worry and find the solution.
Yourself from the Worry.
The smart worrier focuses on things other than the
worrisome event. There
are a number of ways to do this.
Engage yourself in something routine that is pleasant to
you, such as taking a walk, driving, cooking or doing crossword
puzzles. There is a
fair chance that you’ll arrive at a solution to the problem
while disengaging yourself from it.
to soothing your anxiety is to imagine positive possibilities to the worrisome problem.
Just the change of attitude can get you thinking in new
technique is through humor. Think
about something funny related to the problem.
Or make a joke out of the uncomfortable situation.
Use your imagination.
What you’ll be doing is getting off the negative and
focusing on something positive, laughter (or maybe just an
internal giggle). This
is a good way to release tension.
thing, however, is to recognize the worrywart.
It could be you, or it could be someone you supervise.
Once you recognize this debilitating habit, then do
something to reverse it. The
above hints are just a start.