Worrying can be beneficial
Without first jumping to the worst-case scenario, let it be clear that worrying can be very beneficial, as it can serve a number of important, life-preserving functions.
Worrying can protect us
What might such benefits be? Well, for starters, worrying can protect us, as it can help us think about the right things at the right time to help keep us safe. Take for example when one feels worried about travelling alone in the dark. Such a worry can serve as a signal that danger is probable and therefore can help to inform how we make decisions.
Worrying can motivate us
Worrying can also help to motivate oneself toward taking action. A common example of this is that of feeling worried about an upcoming test/exam. If we are able to recognize that the worry signifies that a course of action is needed to do away with it (i.e. studying and preparing), then it has been helpful and has served a self-protective role and useful function. In essence, worrying can help us to stay on track in life, with the caveat being—when experienced in moderation.
The Worry Maze
Things go off-road, however, when worrying is in overdrive. The key words to describe worrying in overdrive are: repetitive and non-productive.
Here, we now enter the maze of worrying. The pairing of a maze with that of worrying is fitting, as a maze is intricate, full of interconnected possibilities, details, and discoveries. Yet, a maze, much like that of worrying, can be daunting, confusing, seemingly twisted and insurmountable to get out of. A maze helps to establish the reality of worrying in overdrive, as the more one worries, the deeper and more entrenched one can become in their thoughts, like that of a maze, to the point of feeling not only lost—but in desperate need of direction and hope.
When worrying is a concern
As a child, teen, or parent reading this article, you may be wondering at this point whether your worrying is past the point of moderation. To help give a sense of direction, here are three signs that you or your child/teen may be in need of professional help:
1. Worries that will not seem to go away
- Do you feel on edge or pent up with tension more often that not?
- Do you find yourself worrying about things for little to no reason?
- Do you find it difficult to unwind/relax?
2. Worries that get worse with time
- Have you noticed your child starting to avoid people and/or situations?
- Have some of the effects of your worrying, like ‘bad’ thoughts and/or physical symptoms, such as stomach cramps, sweating, shaking, etc. become more intensified?
3. Worries that interfere with daily life
- Have you stopped doing activities that you once enjoyed taking part in due to your worrying?
- Has your worrying brought more conflict to relationships with your parents, siblings, friends, or other people in your life?
- Have you noticed your grades dropping significantly from your experience of worrying?
- Has sleeping become a big ordeal, to the point that it has now become a worry in and of itself?
The Avoidance <—> Fixation Problem
All too often in my practice with children and teens, it seems that when their experience of worrying is in overdrive, they tend to, despite good intention, try to either suppress and avoid it altogether or fixate on their worry in efforts to get rid of it.
Unfortunately, avoidance is not a tactic that will do much in the way of good, as heightened worry is there for some reason and without exploring or getting to know it in a certain way, it will linger, and in many cases, actually have more of a presence in the mind.
The devotion of time, energy, and effort to dwelling and fixation inevitably tends to give way to an even deeper form of worrying that can breed further entrenched and even related, yet newly formed topics to worry about. In conversation with children and teens who experience such heightened worrying, they often use words like ‘stuck’ to describe the difficulty they have endured in moving past the worry that has taken hold of them.
Therapeutic Approach to dealing with Worry Overdrive
So, what options exist for how to not only cope with but to minimize worrying in overdrive to the healthy, in moderation kind?
From the earliest possible moment in working with children and teens experiencing heightened worry, I strive to assist the person to begin to try to regain a sense of control over his/her life. Much of my therapeutic approach has roots in narrative therapy, which, in a nutshell, is a form of psychotherapy that views persons as being sources of knowledge and holders of experience, rather than as being deficient.
As much as the focus is on exploring richly and completely their experience of worry (including when it most often takes place, the effects, contributing factors, etc.), so too, do I strive to balance the conversation with what it is that they have to put up against the problem. Accounts of resilience, resistance, and/or action against the problem are the discoveries that help a child or teen realize what capacities, ways of thinking, values, or even skills they have. From these discoveries, this can help to provide a lens for how they can begin to see themselves to then feel capable and ready to move FORWARD out of the worrying maze.
To ease your feelings of stuckness and to start your journey forward, please call 416-531-0727 to set up an appointment in Toronto today.