There are people who worry a lot. And they worry too much, with poor control on thinking. These individuals have developed a habit of taking things with utmost caution and certainty. They are not able to make good decisions, not able to relax, and not able to keep their minds focused on one task. These people are generally called “worriers”, those who worry almost always. Some of these individuals are just high on anxiety levels, and some of them have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
Everyone worries now and then. Worry shows we are concerned about some outcome to happen in future. If I want a good result in an exam, I would worry. If I want to stay healthy, I would worry. Worrying is natural and normal. But what goes on inside the minds of those people who worry a lot? Researchers have identified few common styles of thinking among constant worriers, which distinguish them from people who worry less, or who are able to control their worries efficiently. These are generally labelled as cognitive factors or variables of worrying.
Below, I have listed a few of these thinking patterns, which constitute the everyday thinking of constant worriers:
1) Intolerance of uncertainty: Uncertainty is part of daily life. We are not certain of most of our life’s problems or issues. You never know who you are gonna meet today or whether you will be lucky to find a 500 rupee note on your way. Uncertainty is everywhere, and we try to minimize uncertainty by structuring our lives around routine activities. When we are sure what is to be expected from the work at hand, we tend to feel motivated and enthusiastic.
But what if you are told that a serious earthquake is going to occur in your area today and it can happen anytime. Your thinking throughout the day would shift from daily activities and you will find yourself constantly thinking about that likely earthquake and how you can keep yourself safe if it happens. On your way to your home from work, you will think where to hide when there will be an earthquake so that damages to surrounding property would not affect you. You will think about your family, your career, your savings, your future, etc. So many worrying thoughts would come to your mind once you find a threat in your environment and the likely chances that it may affect you badly.
Constant worriers also go through the similar thinking process, but in their case, these threats are imagined or unlikely to happen. They are thinking of possible negative outcomes which may be highly improbable. They perceive this everyday uncertainty as threatening. There is a catastrophic impact of uncertainty on their thinking as if some minor mishap is going to impact them a lot.
Below are the common ways in which worriers perceive the uncertainty:
a) Uncertainty as stressful and upsetting: Uncertainty is not welcomed cheerfully. No one needs uncertainty. Worriers react more stressfully and anxiously to uncertainty. They give higher resistance to uncertainty than non-worriers. This leads to high levels of anxiety and tensions.
b) Future as unfair: Future holds only uncertainty. Nothing is sure of future events. Worriers perceive future as unfair to them which holds negative and unexpected outcomes for them. They may have experienced unfair outcomes in past, where their expectations were not met and they developed a tendency that similar unfair outcomes would happen in future too. Unexpected events as negative: Unexpected events can be positive or negative. There is no surety because we never know what is going to happen in near or distant future. But if we believe that whatever is going to happen will be only negative then we will constantly worry. There would be no option other than worrying if future holds only negative consequences to present actions.
c) Uncertainty interferes with personal functioning ability: We perform best when we are certain of outcomes. If you know the current job is going to give you a good income and job security, you will work with satisfaction. But if job security is not certain, work efficiency will be less. Worriers are not able to function well because they are not sure of their decisions on everyday tasks. Uncertainty pervades their whole thinking style. This results in lower performance on tasks and activities, and they find outcomes less satisfactory and less encouraging. This poor incentive in activities leads to lower expectations from one’s own performance, and this reduces performance ability.
d) Uncertainty as a threat: Uncertainty is about unknown, and unknown poses threats. Uncertainty may appear in any way, but worst possible manner would be a threat. Since worriers perceive future outcomes as negative, there is a higher chance that any negative outcome would be most severe and intense. This is always anticipated as a threat which requires immediate action for safety. Since worrying is constant and regular, the threats are always in view of happening, and the preparation required to avoid threats also needs to be kept in mind. So worrying is maintained.
2) Negative problem orientation: Worriers take problems negatively. They don’t want problems, and if they occur, they are always considered as negative. For them, problems always have negative outcomes. The problem itself may be perceived as unwelcome and unacceptable. They always find themselves as preparing to cope with problems, as if they don’t have the ability to deal with problems. They perceive problems as threats. Problems mean some threat, something worse is about to happen now. Problems, if they can’t bring solution, and can’t be understood, then they become catastrophic. This opens the maximum possibility of some threat in near future. They are going to fail, whatsoever they do.
3) Positive beliefs about worry: Yes. People may believe that worry is helpful and necessary. People who constantly worry hold the belief that worry is going to bring some good result. Worry helps to prepare for the problem and its possible negative outcome. This expectation is held by the worrier in order to solve problems, one needs to worry and think about it deeply. They look into the details in order to understand various perspectives of the problem. This brings a relief that at least they are working on the problem and may get some good solution that would finally work well. This expectation fuels their mind with hopes of becoming better and gives an imagined sense of confidence over their life. Positive beliefs are maintained because:
a) To avoid future catastrophes: Since they expect negative results in future, and anticipate threats, so they feel a need to be in a state of safety in order to help themselves, This is achieved by worrying as a solution, because while worrying they can constantly think of the problem and its possible solutions. This gives them a hope that they can prepare to avoid some catastrophe in future.
b) Information seeking: Worrying and overthinking is a way of information seeking. Unless they think a lot, how can they look at different perspectives to a problem. So worrying helps to gather various amounts of information about a problem at hand, and this gives them confidence that they are making their decisions wisely. To solve a problem, as many possibilities are to be explored as possible. So worrying helps in this.
c) Provides motivation: Worrying keeps one focused in future. One is never stuck at present or stays in past. Futuristic thinking always gives hopes and sustains motive to keep working. Problems may come and go, but one must keep doing their best to solve them. This idea is wonderful when one is always facing problems and sources of worry are constant. So worriers find motivation in working out on their problems. This process of worrying is sufficient enough to keep them moving.
d) Prepares for anticipated negative events: If a negative event is about to happen, one must be prepared to tackle it. Worrying gives sufficient food to the mind for keeping oneself busy with possible solutions. This state of busy-ness fills one with hopes to deal with the negative faces of the problem whenever it happens. Though the anticipation is imaginary, but preparation is required to handle situations. Since worriers are convinced of negative results and are sure that only negative will happen, so preparation is an utmost necessity. Worrying opens the gates to different possibilities, and there is an attempt to know various possibilities beforehand so that none happens with uncertainty. Preparation keeps all perspectives in mind, so if any of the negative thing happens, there is always an action plan for that.
4) Abstract thinking as worrying: This is a surprising finding in researches that worrying is only abstract logical activity, and it has little or nothing to do with concrete aspects of reality. A problem may have various aspects, and several aspects may be worth considering. But some aspects may be purely logical or theoretical which do not need any careful look. Worriers are of the belief that thinking must keep going, without any real implementation. So worriers tend to keep looking for all sorts of possible outcomes, many of which may never happen in future. This kind of thinking style makes them abstract thinkers, and they really don’t care about concrete aspects of problems which really could solve them. Problem-solving is a goal-directed activity, and thinking over the problem requires that those possibilities should be explored or analyzed which are related to the real-world aspects of it. But what if one keeps exploring all logical outcomes without any concern with reality. These solutions may be important but in some other contexts. Worriers become irrational here. And since they think too much about these possible outcomes, they tend to believe in all of them, and this keeps the process of worrying continuously. If all outcomes are equally likely to happen, then they require some more deep exploration.