For the first time in a while, sitting one seat away from my friend in class couldn’t have been worse. We never talked or said a word or even acknowledged. He was quiet today. Pulling out my phone, I texted him, asking if he was okay. No reply. But he was using his phone. Wait, what if I did something wrong unintentionally and he is mad at me for it? Is he ignoring me for it? No, I cannot bear losing another friend. I cannot handle any more losses. There’s a mental movie accompanying these scary thoughts showing me how I’m going to break down after class knowing he too decided to leave me; how my world is going to come crashing down. I’m paying less and less attention to what’s happening in front, while my head is filling up with all the possible worst-case scenarios of how I’m going to lose yet another friend. Class ended. He spoke. All is well. He just didn’t want to disturb the person sitting in between us.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you how obsessively worrying looks like. We’ve all been in a similar situation at some point of our lives or maybe this is our reality on a day to day basis. Regardless, obsessive worrying (the inability to control our recurrent and disturbing thoughts of apprehension or anxiety on anticipated future scenarios) comes with its own set of detrimental consequences. Undeniably, it has a huge impact on our mood and functioning. Imagine the scenario above where I never got to talk to my friend after class and me still believing that I’ve done something wrong to make him mad. Although no problem exists in reality, my lying anxiety that prompts my obsessive worrying about the situation leaves me with a crisis of reopening the old wounds of the past of people leaving me. This, in turn, affects my productivity and functioning for the rest of the day where I lay ruminating what happened in class and indulging myself into self-pity that leads to a downward spiralling.
However, as much as everyone tends to develop obsessive worrying, there are always actions that can be taken to reduce or eradicate obsessive worrying to improve our quality of life.
Step 1: Identifying and recognizing patterns of your obsessive worrying
Most people who have obsessive worrying slowly tearing their lives apart are not even aware of having such an issue because overthinking has become their norm. Thus, acknowledging the issue at hand is vital and a great start. Identify when you are in the loop of constantly being worried over something that you cannot control. Notice how your thoughts develop from mere life situations into the worst-case scenario in your head. Recognize which subjects usually trigger your obsessive worrying. For instance, when you’re feeling uneasy and some level of anxiety thinking of how you’re going to fail this semester when you only screwed up one quiz, identify that you’re obsessively worrying. Recognize how always the subject of academic performance makes you feel anxious and overwhelmed. Write it down if you have to for identification and recognition of patterns to take place easily.
Step 2: Questioning your thoughts
Understand that your anxiety that causes the obsessive worrying can lie to you. It is what is shooting you with all the ‘what if’ and ‘if only’ questions. Just because the thought has been produced by your mind, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a valid thought. Question its validity. Ask yourself what proof exists to justify how reasonable this thought of yours is. For example, has my friend been mad at me before out of the blue without any explanation? Have I ever failed a semester before because of one quiz? Such questions allow rationality to step in and take over the steering that drives your obsessive thoughts. Once rationality has stepped in, you can now clearly see how ridiculous some of your thoughts are in the presence of anxiety and overwhelming emotions.
Step 3: Creating new perspectives
The next is to consider altering your perspectives towards the subject of your obsessive worrying. Most of the worries become obsessive because we tend to believe what we’re assuming about the situation to be a complete truth. We’re forgetting that we’re merely ‘assuming’ instead of ‘knowing’. I assumed that my friend was mad at me for something I did unintentionally without knowing that if that was the absolute fact. Maybe, he was having a hard day and he didn’t feel like being social might also have been a reason for his behaviour. Maybe, he wanted to completely focus on class today because he felt like he was falling behind in studies. These are all possible reasons and different perspectives to what had happened that we didn’t even consider as we completely indulge ourselves in obsessive worrying. Creating new perspectives about the situation is also another way to let rationality to step it.
Step 4: What can help me now?
Lastly, we’re mostly so consumed with the problems that we obsessively worry about rather than thinking about how to solve it. As I said, with anxiety and overwhelming emotions, all our rationality goes out of the window, leaving us just feeling helpless. Often, subjects of worries are either something from the regrettable past or the anticipated future. Never from the present. Ask yourself what can be done now to help you with what you’re worrying. If there is something that can be done, there you go, you have your solution. But since most obsessive thoughts are related to the future and the past, there isn’t much that can be done in the now. Thus, worrying about something which is outside your locus of control is only wasting your energy and resources, ultimately draining you. Although the truth is so simple, acceptance of it is not.
Obsessive worrying can be very detrimental as it reduces your quality of life. But with identification and recognition of thought patterns, questioning your thoughts, considering new perspectives and asking yourself what help do you need, they can be reduced into manageable hurdles. However, obsessive worrying shouldn’t be underestimated and swept aside as your mind playing mere tricks on you because it can be the symptoms of real psychological disorders. If the problem of obsessive worrying feels too overwhelming to the point it’s causing impairment to your daily life, there’s nothing wrong seeking professional help.