Author: Corinne Gurvitz, Counselling Psychologist

We all worry about things, but how is it that sometimes they seem to pass and yet other times they just won’t go away? What we are rarely taught is that there are two different kinds of worries, and the ways to deal with them are different- we just need to learn how to notice and recognise them. Try following these 4 steps:

Step 1: Notice the worry

In managing our worries, we need to first notice that we are worrying. This sounds obvious, but so often we feel a general unease in our bodies, or know our mind is whirring but we do not get specific about what is actually happening. Take a minute to check in with yourself, even if this is just to say ‘ah, I’m doing it again’.

Step 2: What am I actually worrying about here?

To further manage our worries, we need to then become aware of what they are about- again, this sounds obvious, but when our mind is whirring away, we often do not get specific about what exactly we are worrying about. The more we know about what the worry is, the more we can work with it and know how to intervene.

Step 3: What kind of worry is this?

Ask yourself ‘can I do anything about this?’, or ‘is there any evidence/ proof this is actually going to happen?’ This is the crux point. Recognising the different kinds of worry is all about answering the above questions and deciding whether it is a ‘current problem’ or a hypothetical worry. This is crucial because each kind of worry has a different intervention.

When we talk about evidence/ proof, it needs to be something that can be verified externally- the same kind of evidence you would provide to a court. In Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) we often talk about this as ‘taking the thought to court’.

‘Current problems’ are things we know are going to happen and so need to plan for, such as knowing we need to pay a bill, knowing an assignment is due or needing to cook for friends coming round. The evidence/ proof it will happen is the bill letter/ contract, being told an assignment is due or having it written in a course book, having arranged the dinner with friends etc.

The other kind of worry is a hypothetical worry- we all know the ones; they often start with ‘what if…’, they bring lots of possibilities up, they can snowball and become massive very quickly, moving well away from what is actually happening and leaving us totally stuck. Noticing each of the worries in the ‘snowball’ as per steps 1 and 2 is critical so that you can think about what kind of worry it is in step 3. It can be useful to write them down as this slows the process down and allows you to see your worries outside your mind and on the page. It can sometimes be surprising where they can go! It’s thought that the vast majority of our worries are hypothetical- it’s been estimated that 70- 80%. This is something that we all deal with!

Remember, when thinking about whether there is any evidence/ proof that the thing you are worrying about will happen, it needs to be evidence you would provide to a court. From this perspective, ‘I’m thinking about it’ or ‘a bad feeling’ are not evidence – even though when we worry, just the way it feels in our body can make it ‘feel’ true.