Are you a born worrier?

June, 2015

People suffering (and suffering is the right word) with high anxiety tend to be what many people call ‘born worriers’. They find it very hard to live in ‘the not knowing’, as they can’t bear uncertainty. They tend to mull over tiny details, dwell on possible future bad outcomes, jump to worst case scenarios and suffer what I call anticipatory anxiety, by living in the ‘what if’ rather than the ‘what is’.

Anxiety provokes the need to control. It’s a key thought in therapy, and worth repeating like a mantra… anxiety provokes the need to control. It works the other way round too:  confronting the uncontrollable provokes anxiety.

You can’t control other people. Humans are unpredictable and have their own minds – you can’t control their thoughts, beliefs or behaviour.  You can’t prevent human error either. None of us are perfect and we all make mistakes. So you can’t control how other people look after you, whether it’s driving or flying you somewhere, or managing you at work or parenting you as a child.

To make matters even more uncontrollable the universe and fate itself hand out random events from time to time. A lightning bolt, a freak wave, those wrong time/wrong place moments

The way to reduce anxiety is to face it down, by doing the things you fear and finding out that nothing bad happens – and doing this again and again. Anxiety doesn’t harm you. It is an uncomfortable feeling, yes, but it doesn’t do any damage. What’s more it always fades away in time. Think of it as one of your body’s feedback systems, letting you know there may be a threat you should be aware of, but it hasn’t got its facts quite right. Another good way to tackle it is to write down your unhelpful anxiety-provoked thoughts, and then for every worry, write down something from your own experience that challenges it head-on. For example:

‘The lift might get stuck.’


‘The lift very probably won’t get stuck, but even if it does, nothing terrible will happen as people will get me out. I don’t know anyone who’s got stuck for very long.’

In therapy, I encourage clients to accept the ‘not knowing’, to try to enjoy uncertainty and live life in real time, in the here and now. By keeping an anxiety diary, people soon realise that they waste a huge amount of time and lose all peace of mind by constantly planning around things in the future that never happen.  So much worry wasted on nothing.

Instead, it’s best to identify the bits you can control and concentrate on them. Control the controllables and learn to shrug your shoulders and let the rest go. Concentrate on the here and now, the ‘what is’, rather than fretting about the ‘what if’s.