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Why Worry?

I have a confession to make: I have been worrying a bit lately.

I was born in Leicester (That’s not why I have been worrying, I should add, – it is a fine city!) No, I have spent the last month in a mixed state of excitement and worry about whether Leicester City were going to win the Premiership or not.

As it turns out, I need not have worried and I recognise that this was a bit daft of me on two levels.

  1. I had no influence here and worrying about the things you cannot control is a fruitless pastime.
  2. I do not particularly follow Leicester City or football in general.

I just so wanted the underdogs to come out on top!

Most people who know me well will tell you that I have always been a bit of worrier and although I am much improved, I do have had a tendency, at times, to catastrophise.
Catastrophisation is the ability to exaggerate the significance of negative events and project and assume the worst possible consequences from them.

I would like to think that I have do have some fine characteristics in my personality, but the ability to catastrophise is certainly not one of them. On the plus side, if you have a tendency towards catastrophisation, you will never, ever, be bored because even on a day when things are going well, and you should not need to feel stress at all, you will anticipate negative outcomes to sequence of events that may not even have happened yet!

On the down side you waste endless energy, worrying about things that may not come to pass.

‘A day of worry is more exhausting than a week of work’.
Sir John Lubbock

When I was a headteacher, I could waste whole days worrying about a parent who has booked an appointment for an unknown reason. Often they were not complaints at all, and even if they were I usually had the experience and skill–sets to be able to resolve the issue, but that would not stop me ruminating. Sometimes there was justification for my anxieties and concerns but at other times I made mountains out of molehills and failed to heed my Grandma’s consistent advice when I was young. ‘Let’s cross that bridge when we get there.’

One of the best strategies I have found for countering the tendency to catastrophise, is to have my thinking challenged.

Talking to other people and not bottling things up is really important because the more emotionally we are connected with a problem, the less easy it is to be objective about it. Sharing concerns with a trusted supporter, inside, or outside the workplace allows us the opportunity to have our worst case scenarios and worrisome thoughts positively challenged.

Don’t be afraid to say to people, ‘This is what I am worrying about. Is there another way of looking at this situation?’ Most people are only too glad to be asked.

It is also good to develop the skill of challenging your own thinking. Many fears are irrational and ill-formed thoughts. Getting things down on paper often helps, provide us with some clarity. For example, for many people writing a ‘to-do list’ helps them to order their thoughts and prioritise their actions. Equally writing down our fears can be an important step to gaining perspective.

Here are five questions that we can usefully apply to challenge our own thinking.

1) Are there any reasons for my having this worrying thought?

ie what have I experienced, seen or read, that has caused me to have this worry. There is usually a root cause so we should not feel embarrassed about it.

2) Are there any reasons against me holding this thought?

ie If someone was going to argue why my fear was not rational, what is it they would say?

3) What is the worst thing that could happen?

Uncomfortable though it is imagining the worst case scenario can actually help us deal with it.

4) How would I cope with this?

Knowing the worst case scenario allows us to plan for it and planning gives us some much-needed mental control over the situation.

5) What is a more constructive way of looking at this situation?

What might be an alternative, more positive way of looking at the situation?

Having gone through these questions, try writing yourself a short paragraph, that summarises the main points of your responses. This helps to provide some insight into the appropriateness of the anxiety you are feeling.

This is a really helpful technique, but takes some time and as with most things, some practise. Give it a try sometime.

And as for Leicester City? It just goes to demonstrate what good leadership, morale and a healthy dose of self-belief can achieve.

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