Worrying is when we keep going over something in our mind feeling uneasy or concerned about it and not really coming to any solution.
Worrying from time to time is common, but at the moment when our routines are distrurbed, our support networks are far away and health risks are rampant, it’s easy for worry to get out of control.
Though what you worry about may be unique to you, the ways in which we worry are often similar. When it comes to controlling worry, recognising and labelling it are important first steps.
These different ways of worrying are known as ‘cognitive distortions’. Below are some examples of common worry patterns or cognitive distortions.
Take a look through the list and see if you can pinpoint which worry patterns you fall into most often.
Our brains are anything but impartial. Whether it’s being more likely to see negative things, selectively picking out information that suits our own perspective or even liking an idea more because it’s our own, we see the world in a biased way. With mental filtering, we often ignore the positive things or flip side to an argument in favour of information that confirms how we already feel or what we believe. This in turn then creates a body of evidence that convinces us we’re right to think that way.
Black and white thinking
It’s rare that a situation is completely bad or completely good or that there’s only one right solution to a problem. Black and white thinking can cause you to miss the nuance of a situation, only seeing it in terms of extremes rather than being able to neutrally evaluate all the possible solutions.
When we take a situation and immediately jump to the worst case scenario, we’re catastrophising. This worry style often means we end up spending our energy thinking about unlikely, extreme scenarios and allowing our worry to grow and grow. If catastrophising becomes a habit, it can lead to being in a constant state of worry about everyday situations.
We create our thoughts and emotions - they’re not facts. When we use emotional reasoning, we’re interpreting a situation based on how we feel at that given moment. For example, if you feel nervous, you may interpret the situation as dangerous and one to escape from, even if that’s not necessarily the case.
Sometimes our past experiences or perceptions have a big impact on how we think about our current situation. Overgeneralisation is when we use one small experience or piece of evidence to make a broad assumption. For example, you made a small mistake the last time you were doing a presentation at work and you say to yourself “I’ll do a terrible job again this time, I’m awful at presenting, maybe I shouldn’t be doing a job where there’s any presenting, I should leave”.
“I should”, “I must”
With this negative thought pattern, people tend to find themselves constantly falling short of their own expectations - however realistic or unrealistic they may be: “I must go to the gym more”, “I should be doing that kind of thing with the kids”. This style of thinking can lead to a lot of guilt and unhappiness.
Use this insight into your most common worrying styles to recognise when you’re starting to worry more and take the time to stop, acknowledge and label it.
Doing this will help you distinguish between productive thinking time and worrying that’s beginning to spiral.