MH@H Mental Health

“Should” You Worry About Things?

"Should" you worry about things?

AI recently about the worry tree as a tool for managing worry, and my friends at WeDIDIt mentioned that the idea the worry is productive can be a trap that leads to endless worry and rumination.

Hence this post – “should” you worry, ruminate, self-criticize, or engage in other repetitive negative thinking patterns in order to reduce the likelihood of negative outcomes?

Does worrying improve understanding?

Besides reducing negative outcomes, other possible reasons I can think of that might support these “shoulds” are increasing understanding and preventing repeats of negative events that have already occurred. However, it seems unlikely that these thought processes are rational and/or reasonable enough to actually improve outcomes.

A major problem with the aim to increase understanding is that these thought processes are too close to the trees to see the forest.  They’re not just close to the trees, they’re hugging and perhaps even trying to hump them.  It seems rather unlikely that from this perspective one might achieve a greater understanding of the issue in question.  Instead, you’ll just get distracted by the moss growing on the trunk of the tree that’s rubbing your face and the splinters that are jabbing you in the ribs.

Does it improve outcomes?

So, that’s the insight side of things; how about reducing the risk of negative outcomes?

The problem with repetitive thinking patterns like worry and rumination is that they’re very problem-focused.  They keep you running around on the hamster wheel that is the problem, unlikely to notice the off-ramp that leads to solution-ville.  Sure, you need to think about a problem in order to come up with potential solutions, but that solution endpoint needs to be front of mind.  Otherwise, you’re just expending endless energy on that problem hamster wheel.

Mental illness in particular can make it easy to automatically fall into these thought patterns.  However, let’s say that you do have some mental flexibility available to shift to a more solution-oriented way of thinking.  What might that look like?

Problem-solving strategies

One way would be to use problem-solving tools like a decisional balance grid to keep the focus on generating a solution rather than mulling over the problem.

Decisional balance grid

I find it helpful to mentally distance myself from the situation and take a contemplative approach.  It’s kind of like climbing a tree so I get a view of the forest and leaving the emotional intensity down by the forest floor.  Unlike worry, where I’m trapped on the forest floor and chasing my figurative tail around a tree, from the treetop I’m able to gain actual insight into a situation and identify ways to manage it.

As much as I’d love to be a rockstar tree climber, I can’t always make it to the treetop.  The environments that are most conducive to this are restorative yoga class and sitting outside on sunny days watching tree leaves dance in the breeze.

It feels very different to have this kind of detached, contemplative perspective as opposed to repetitive negative thought patterns.  It feels like I’m making progress rather than feeling like I might make progress if I keep mentally chewing at the issue long enough.

So, should you engage in repetitive negative thought patterns in order to make some sort of progress?  I say no.  If you’re going to “should” yourself into doing something, you’re probably better off getting your tree-climbing gear ready.

Do you tend to have these kinds of “shoulds”?

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34 thoughts on ““Should” You Worry About Things?”

  1. Oh, I LOVE this blog post. Especially the part about the trees having sex with the forest. Great use of metaphor! πŸ˜›

    Yeah, you know how proactive and solution-oriented I am. Sometimes it hurts. I’ll be honest. Like, when I decided to switch away from writing YA and jump onto the cozy mystery ship, it felt sort of crushing because I was afraid it meant all my YA books were dreadful. But now here I am, writing a book that I HOPE will get traditionally published.

    I think the biggest problem I ever solved was my psychotic beliefs about Evil Spirits. After I moved back from Georgia in 2005, I had to take Geodon for six+ years, or else I’d become terrified. Unfortunately, it took away all my creativity and left me perpetually bored. The beliefs were so firmly entrenched that no one could talk me out of it, ya know? But I wanted a solution, and I actively sought one out.

    I joined a meditation group in 2010 (read: low-grade cult) and they taught me how to meditate. While in that group, I spent about six weeks engaged in numerous daily disciplines like meditation, visualization, memory exercises (those were hard!), etc. It took a large amount of dedication. So, one day I was doing the extended meditation where you have to keep your mind clear, and I suddenly had this vision of where my false beliefs had come from, and it all made sense. I couldn’t believe it! It was awe-inspiring. That night I had a dream that confirmed it. (We were also taught dream interpretation.) And then I was FINALLY able to taper off of Geodon without becoming afraid. I still take other psych meds, and I’m not trying to encourage anyone to go off their drugs; but my current meds don’t steal away my creativity, so I’ve been writing novels, and everything.

    I like to think almost all problems have a solution.

  2. The image that came to our mind was the animated β€œThe Hobbit” from 1977. Bilbo and the Dwarves are trapped in Mirkwood Forest and Bilbo climbs to the top and sees above the trees: it’s beautiful and sunny and a butterfly is there. It’s a different world entirely, and it changes his life.

    If trees could hump back, we would consider it. We love trees so much. And we have terrible boundaries apparently

    Every time you say we are your friend, it makes us feel so proud β€οΈπŸ’•β€οΈπŸ’•. When we read our name that you wrote, our heart goes fast!

  3. Love this post! Over the years I’ve become more adept at catching thought spirals and turning my focus on my breath. There are times keeping track of my mind feels like a full time job.

  4. What a good analogy with the trees and the forest! I would feel less pressured, I think, to oversee the way from the highest tree than too find it all out from the ground without a decent map. But I think, sometimes I just want to hug the tree and close my eyes for the solution. I will take a breather from the treetop in the future, after such a climb a rest will be well deserved. I really like this post, it’s so clear to me now πŸ™‚

  5. Definitely have the monkey brain! Or the hamster wheel! Hard to get out of sometimes. I find I have to consciously choose to stop , make myself do a meditation or breathe . I like the climbing the tree approach. I call it the helicopter view. Looking down from above… similar meaning. Helpful!

  6. Oh boy! I used to run that hamster wheel endlessly! “What if”ing myself in circles. Counseling helped and disability gave me some REAL truths to face. Now, I deal with what IS, rather than the maybes.
    Great post! I’d rather hug than hump a tree🀣

  7. As everyone has stayed… best post ever! 😝 Was just talking to a friend on this very topic. How I get lost in my head maze and forget labyrinths are built to escape much more easily. So go in, breathe and release, and then leave with good intentions to move forward. Let it go. Forgive. Love the ugly so the beauty is embraceable. The ugly only serves to distract us from finding our jewels. πŸ˜˜β€οΈπŸ•Š

  8. My anxiety often manifests as a hypochondriac. It can be terribly stressful as I think over and over again that the “symptoms” I’m experiencing could be indicative of something morbid. If it’s a bump I keep touching it, inspecting it and trying to determine if it’s really something to worry about. I’ll tell myself to leave it alone, keep an eye on it or schedule an appointment if it worries you that much. But then I’ll come right back to it a few minutes later like I WANT to think and think and worry and worry about it. While worrying I’m imagining it being those terrible things. I have to start asking myself some questions: does this require urgent care? No okay move on. Should you get this checked out? Yes, well schedule an appointment, make notes for the appointment, keep an eye on it, but stop thinking about it. No, then keep an eye on it, take some notes to help remember when it started (I never remember to do this) and STOP WORRYING about it

    It’s good for me to be vigilant about my health. And it’s good for me to stay on top of things that are worrisome. But once the initial worry has occurred I have to find ways to manage my worry, meaning distract myself from them. Ruminating makes my anxiety EXPLODE. In my case if worry is the forest I have to be in and out. See what I need to, understand the situation, decide if I should take action and what then move on. Over worrying freezes me. Then sometimes to avoid worrying I am careless and just want to move on, keep going because I don’t want to worry because I’m sure it’s fine.

    Sometimes it’s a fine line. Lol. A month ago I was cutting wood with a mitre saw. I bumped the saw on accident and it SNATCHED the wood and chucked it at my shin. (It was on the floor because I was just cutting a little bit of wood up for my birds.) This hurt A LOT. I got up. Went upstairs, lifted my pant leg, felt around to see if maybe anything was broken. Now, it was barely bleeding and was white in the middle. I doused it in alcohol several times and put a bandaid on. I figured it was white because of the force of the blow…I feel really dumb now…I figured it couldn’t be anything else because it was barely bleeding.

    Later that night I noticed the scab was larger than the blood I’d seen. Hm, okay well let it heal and do it’s thing on its own. But OMG did that puppy hurt. Walking, moving my leg, don’t you dare bump it, it HURT! And I figured it should, got to be a hell of a bruise though the bruise never showed. Well it’s been a month probably and it’s still healing. I’m pretty sure now that that “white” might have been bone and maybe I should have at least used a butterfly bandage. Probably it didn’t bleed more because it’s on my shin. And so I was so relieved not to worry about it and just move on with this mildly bad personal injury, I didn’t ask anymore questions. Now I think about it and my palms sweat and my heart races because I wonder if I messed something up by not treating it differently. At the very least, could I have lessened the scar?

    In conclusion, worry for me is a loaded word. It is a thing I am learning to balance and use as a tool instead of a weapon against my life. It’s very bothersome to the people who know me; they worry about me worrying and it annoys them. But I can’t help but worry that they aren’t worrying about things… I could go on, but thanks for the opportunity to share my experience with you. Great post. I look forward for the chance to read the other replies.

    1. Like you said, it can be a fine line. There needs to be sufficient motivation to follow up on the things that need following up on, but not so much worry it takes over everything else.

  9. I’ve GAD, which is characterised by worry! My Mum probably has untreated GAD, her worry makes mine look tame.

    Worry isn’t productive for me, it makes me far less able to identify potential solutions and taking action is. Like WeDIDItPTSD’s Hobbit analogy. I lose the tree-top view and get completely lost in the forest.

      1. Yes! Her worry (which she acts out with anger outbursts, fretting and reassurance seeking) affects everyone. And while I’m a lot better at managing her effect on me, sometimes it sets off my own set of worry, which is SO NOT helpful πŸ˜›

  10. I definitely end up spiralling with negative thought patterns when it comes to worrying about things and sometimes I end up digging myself so far into a hole that you end up feeling low for a few days afterwards. It’s something I’m working on but it can be so difficult to get out of bad habits! I’m going to have a go at using the worry tree though as this definitely seems like something that would be useful for me! x

  11. I see worry and concern as very different things. Worry is like a sick, anxious feeling that cripples people from taking action. Concern is more of an awareness of risk. Like I’m concerned that COVID could potentially kill my mother but I’m not worried about it because there’s nothing I can do about it and it’s not a very high chance.

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