When Worry is a Way of Life
“I’m so worried one of my kids will get sick and die.”
“I have to hold my grandson’s hand every second or some pedophile will come and kidnap him.”
“You got to move that picture hanging on the wall next to our grandson’s bed because I can’t sleep worrying that the nail will come loose and the picture will fall and the glass will cut his arteries and he will die.”
Sometimes worry becomes a way of life. The above statements are examples of what psychologists call, “catastrophizing.” We indulge in catastrophizing when we borrow trouble by obsessing over different “what if?” scenarios running through our heads and tormenting ourselves with imaginary dangers that are completely beyond our control.
Of course, taking appropriate precautions is always important, but chronic worriers confuse preparedness with a need to control every possible outcome. In lesser forms, catastrophizing makes life difficult by robbing a person of the energy to deal with the real problems of everyday life. At its worst, catastrophizing leads to serious emotional problems like Generalized Anxiety and Panic Disorders.
The good news is that anxiety disorders respond very well to both self-help and professional treatment. Research shows that over 80% of people who seek help recover from anxiety disorders. When Panic Attacks, by Dr. David Burns is among the most effective self-help books on the market to assist people in overcoming their own anxiety—without medication. Dr. Burns is a pioneer in research on effective interventions with depression and anxiety disorders and clinical studies have shown his book alone to be effective for treating mild to moderate cases of anxiety disorder.
When You’re Living with an Anxious Person
When someone you love is constantly worrying, it can be very difficult. You may be called upon to go to ridiculous ends to eliminate problems that are little more than imaginary.
The reality is that the more unreasonable fears are indulged, the more pervasive they become. Although it can seem cruel to refuse an anxious person’s request to check if the doors are lock yet again, or to talk through how the lead story on the news probably won’t happen in your family, setting appropriate boundaries around these issues can be an important step leading the anxious person to seek treatment.
Don’t be dismissive of the anxious person’s concerns, otherwise, the person will come to see you as simply unsympathetic as opposed to helpful. But having tried to attend to their most reasonable concerns or take the most reasonable precautions (even if that means going a little further than you might prefer), don’t be afraid to draw a clear, charitable line and refuse certain requests that seem over-the-top.
Encourage the anxious person in your life to get the help they need to leave anxiety behind and if you are a spouse or close family member, be willing to participate in their treatment so that you know how best to support them in their recovery.